Last night’s first presidential debate was a great night for challenger Mitt Romney. He was the only one on the stage who looked like he knew what he was there to do (including Jim Lehrer). While Romney tenaciously attacked the president and continued to spin the GOP narrative, Obama sleepwalked through the entire night. He seemed caught off guard by Romney’s articulate message, and completely unprepared to match it with a message of his own. While Romney was passionate and organized, Obama seemed grumpy and defeated. The entire game was played on Obama’s side of the field as Romney took it to the president for 90 minutes. It wasn’t even close. Romney won the debate by a couple touchdowns.
When the dust settles and everyone reviews the tape, the narrative may change a little bit. For one thing, this debate was all about the economy. Obama was always going to struggle in that conversation. As I read the news online today, the GOP folks are excitedly spiking the ball. Yet, while the Republicans bask in the glow of their candidates superior performance, you can bet that the Dems are working through what will surely be a windfall of new ad material. This was a good example of the one clear advantage of being a challenger. None of your plans need any basis in reality. “What I plan to do,” is just a phrase the incumbent isn’t able to use very easily. If you campaign in poetry and govern in prose, Obama seemed unable to make the switch from governing prose to campaign poetryRomney’s campaign advisers need to get some serious recognition for for superior strategy and preparation. The GOP team had a perfect approach planned, they had done their homework, and Romney was flawlessly prepared. He hammered the jobs narrative with impressive discipline. Obama’s advisers clearly did not have the president ready. I keep hearing the Carter/Reagan comparisons from the right, but I think I would compare last night’s debate to Clinton v. Bush 01. It was a pretty lopsided win for the R’s.
One interesting note is that Romney doesn’t appear to have done well with women voters. Focus groups seem to indicate that although women agree that Romney won, they indicate that Romney came off like the argumentative ex-boyfriend who had to win every fight and wouldn’t let anyone else get a word in edgewise. The overnights will tell us more but focus groups seem to indicate that Romney won the debate, but it doesn’t seem to have moved the dial for him. People are still waiting on particulars. One thing’s for sure, the stakes just got higher for the next two debates.