Romney’s night as Obama pulls his punches
The debate night in Denver started with a perfect late summer evening. The Rocky mountains were crystal clear against the golden light casting long shadows over a happy university campus.
When we emerged from the hall an hour and a half later the temperature had dropped by 20 degrees, a dust storm had fouled the air and winter had arrived with a promise of snow.
This is what the Obama team must have felt like. Even many Democrats agree that the president got a drubbing. In the split-screen coverage on TV, which means that the reaction to an answer is almost as telling as the answer itself, Obama looked like a head teacher who has been forced to share the stage with the school debate champion.
Perhaps this is what happens after four years of living in a large white mansion where no one apart from perhaps your wife contradicts you. In this alpha male wonk fest Romney dominated and Obama pulled his punches.
He didn’t mention Bain Capital once. He didn’t remind the audience of Mitt Romney’s worst campaign moment, the infamous remark about the 47 per cent of Americans who don’t pay income tax and he didn’t even skewer him with his inconsistency on healthcare reform.
The president should have watched some of the 20 Republican debates from the primaries and he would have seen Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum or even pizza magnate Herman Cain sink their teeth into Romney more effectively.
Apparently the president had spent three days practising at a golf resort in Nevada with John Kerry. What were they practising? Their bunker shots?
Obama’s staff were so foxed by their boss’s performance they were 10 minutes late in the all important spin room, leaving the floor to gleeful Republicans like Rudy Giuliani or Senator Marco Rubio.
So Mitt had a good night, perhaps the best night of his campaign so far. It ended three terrible weeks for him and gave his exhausted, disillusioned team the much needed hope that perhaps, perhaps their guy could turn things around after all.
The early opinion polls seem to agree with them. But Mitt Romney has his work cut out.
The horse race is back on but there are two more debates and Obama will, one presumes, now fight like he really wants to hold onto his job.
Last night he only told us that he deserved to and after the performance of the last four years that is not enough. History is infuriatingly inconsistent about the impact of debate performances on the final result.
Walter Mondale trounced Ronald Reagan in the first debate in 1984 and then went on to be crushed in the actual election. Reagan beat Jimmy Carter in his debate against the incumbent in 1980, completely reversed the perceptions built up during the campaign and won. Kerry out-debated Bush in 2004 in at least two out of three jousts and still lost.
There is just over a month left, millions of dollars to spend on attack ads, the ground war of mobilising voters on polling day, two more debates and dozens of town hall schmooze sessions with voters, as well as any events the candidates may have to respond to.
Who knows if there are other tapes out there of Romney displaying Mittmouth? But after last night’s debate we already have one October surprise: Mitt’s campaign has a pulse. His own supporters felt what a winner might sound like. They might ask themselves why the candidate kept them in suspense for so long.
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