The Real Winners Were The American People*

In case you need one more opinion about last night's debate, here's mine.

If the audience is mainstream media and folks whose life-blood is politics --if we're scoring this as we'd score an academic debate-- a draw.
  • Romney had a few unforced errors, including not getting even close to answering the very first question, which was weird since it was his wheelhouse: jobs. Should have been an easy homer for him, and he whiffed it. He got better, but if it's true no one watches after the first 20 minutes, that gives a slight edge to the President. 
  • Also thought Romney missed a huge opportunity to talk about religious liberty -- which plays very well with voters-- when the president accused him of being anti-contraception. 
  • Arguments about rules diminish the participants. I thought both men looked prickly and small when they were "in each other's faces." I sucked wind when Romney told the President of the United States that he'd get his turn. That's not what I understand by "red meat." Romney did better in previous debate simply taking command, not asking for it.
  • Town halls are not a good format for either guy. Neither connects. I spent a lot of the debate thinking, "AWK...ward."
  • Feel a little bit sorry for Candy Crowley. What she did on the Libya question was bad, but I think she did it reflexively (as she says here), not intentionally, trying to get the two men to move past the sniping over the word "terror." Even in the moment what she actually said was that the President technically did use the word terror in his Rose Garden remarks but that Romney was substantively correct, the President did not call the Benghazi attack a pre-meditated act of terror. Thanks to audience response, the moment didn't play out the way she intended, but she was right and doesn't deserve the flak she's getting from the Right. If Romney had picked up on what she said, he could have turned that around. His bad.  
However, if the audience is voters, I think it was a bad night for Obama. Not as obviously bad as the first time out, but possibly worse in the long run.
  • Yes, he showed up (gee, thanks, Mr. President) and yes, he landed a few blows on Romney. But as even his friends noticed, he was defensive all night and had not one single thing to offer that he would do differently. He kept reverting to talking points -- led with them in the first question,even-- and my God, how many times could you say Pell Grants or Planned Parenthood in one night? Are those the big issues facing Americans right now? Weak.
  • (Update: I meant to say previously but forgot this point. How much of what the President said last night will ring true to anyone? He stood there and told us he's passed a bajillion middle class tax cuts and made health care more affordable. But I'm middle class and I know my taxes went up and they cut our HSA allowance in half, and many of my internet friends have complained about their insurance premiums going up. It sounds good, but I have to think everyone who heard it knows better and was probably put off --how can you get away with telling people they aren't hurting when they are?)
  • Romney's real-world experience really helped him. His answer to the question on women's wages was fabulous, even though I'm not the sort who's interested in hiring preferences or worrying about whether we've got "one of everything" in a cabinet. What made his answer real --and I'm sure hit home with working women--  was his discussion of flex-hours. That's the kind of thing that working moms actually want. They are not, pace the President, anxious about how to get to Walmart for their $9/ month contraceptives. They're worrying about how to be meaningfully present in their children's lives while holding down a job. What Romney said revealed he really does know about the needs of working families and I'm confident that resonated with people all over the country. I think he had a number of answers like that -- where what he said wasn't even that scripted, it was just what spontaneously came to his mind because he has real-life experience. That's the kind of thing that gives voters confidence. Obama's detached, professorial approach to real-world questions ("We passed the Lilly Ledbetter act.") sounds good but doesn't inspire confidence. 
  • Underscoring the importance of the point above, I was interested to note in Frank Luntz' focus group that one of the "undecided" voters pointedly said she wasn't undecided between Romney & Obama, but undecided between Romney and not voting (doesn't that distinction make you feel better about "undecideds"?). Now she's a solid Romney vote. I believe many people are being swayed similarly.
  • It was devastating in itself that a clearly disappointed African-American man rose to ask the President why he should vote for him again because every aspect of the economy is worse for him four years later. Romney's fantastic take-down of the President's record in his response to that question made that portion of the debate doomsday for Obama.
*snort. The cliche in the post title is stupid, but props to the people in the town hall. Ordinarily the questions at a presidential town hall are so provincial that, as my brother says, you just long for the candidates to respond, "Look, I'm running for President here. Ask your PTA president that one." But folks did pretty well -- which is maybe a sign they are worried.

P.S.  Here's a bit of political gossip I heard third-hand from an unreliable source. A former multiple-term Democratic mayor and supposed insider told a friend that the Obama campaign's internal polls tell them it's over (Obama's got no chance) and they are positioning him to run again in 2016.

That sounds like utter cr--  to me and I dismissed it out of hand. But then I ran across this blog post and peeked around a little at the UnSkewed Polls website and....well, hmm.  Hmm. I don't know if they're right, so don't get cocky, but it seems so much in concert with the simple fact of a prolonged recession.