Who Won the 3rd Debate & My Election Predictions at 2 Weeks Out

In the final presidential debate both candidates performed well and made their best case. Mr. Romney accused the president of weak leadership. President Obama painted Romney as a flip-flopper whose opinions are all over the map.

The early poll from CBS said Obama: 53%, Romney 23%, a margin of victory which was slightly larger than the first debate win for Romney (46% to 22%).  Other polls suggest a similar margin. A Google poll had it at 45/35 to Obama.

A key moment was a heated exchange around Romney’s op-ed column for the New York Times with the headline “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” The lead paragraph of the article reads, “If General Motors, Ford and Chrysler get the bailout that their chief executives asked for yesterday, you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.” As Romney tried to walk the quote back, it played into Obama’s strategy of calling Romney’s position “all over the map.”

Where the president struggles in on the economy, and Romney made him pay. Much of the debate, which was meant to be entirely on foreign policy, was spent talking about the domestic economy, which is an issue Romney consistently wins on. A substantial section, 10-15 minutes in the second half of the debate was only marginally about foreign policy. It was clearly Romney’s best inning.

Some Republicans, especially the neo-cons, seem to be less than pleased with the debate result. David Frum, a powerful voice with the party and a Romney supporter tweeted last night, “Bottom Line: Romney did well. My friends who support Romney for hawkish reasons… maybe not so well.” There seems to be a tacit agreement among the hard right and neo-cons that they’ll allow Romney to run to the middle in order to win crucial undecided voters. That’s how Romney was so effective in the first debate. Obama’s strategy is to point out the inconsistency.

Debating foreign policy is about showing that a candidate has enough substance to be a world leader. Robert Reich called Romney a dithering-bully to Obama’s Commander-in-chief. I don’t think it was quite that pronounced, but the president is at an obviously advantage here. Romney struggled at times to come up with substantive statements and seemed to agree with Obama on nearly everything. At times he seemed like he was providing answers to a world history exam, trying to show he knew where things were. Romney’s “path to the sea” comment about Syria defies geography. Iran has over a 1000 miles of coastline. (The Daily Kos posted an article today claiming that the line was a dog whistle to evangelicals… worth reading).

Obama clearly won the debate, but it will hardly matter. For one thing, it was foreign policy and American’s don’t vote on that issue. For another thing, there was a baseball playoff game and Monday night football happening, so viewership is likely to be down. Lastly, this debate is mostly about appearing substantial, and Romney already passed the gravitas test in the first debate.

The race has tightened to be sure. Margin of victory for either side will be razor thin. Romney’s first debate performance has given him the momentum in the race. That last night’s debate win will allow President Obama to win back some of what he lost in the first debate is pretty unlikely. Still the D’s have a decided electoral math advantage, and the Republican strategy of implementing new voter requirements (which would hurt the D’s), has been decimated by the courts. What’s going to happen?

When it comes to electoral math, there’s only one place to look: Five Thirty Eight blog. Nate Silver is the best electoral prognosticator on the planet. As of this morning, Silver gives Obama a 70% chance of winning the election, Romney a 30% chance. His post-debate article says that if Obama can find a 1% bump in the polls from last night’s debate, it would take a chance of an Obama victory to 80%.  Still, the polls have the race within the margin of error, and with Romney’s momentum, and a perceived lack of enthusiasm among Democrats it is still too close to call.

The race is already decided in all but a few battleground states.

  • Romney will take Colorado, Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida.
  • Obama will get Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and New Hampshire.
  • The race comes down to Ohio and Iowa.

Silver gives Obama a 72% chance of winning Ohio and a 66.5% chance of winning Iowa, but it’s far from a lock. My gut tells me that Romney will get Iowa. It will all come down to Ohio. Whoever wins Ohio will win the election. Silver gives Ohio a 50/50 chance of being the deciding vote in the election, and he has the race leaning Obama. Silver doesn’t do predictions, he gives odds. Today he gives Obama a 72% chance of winning Ohio, Romney a 28% chance.

Who’s it going to be? We’ll know in two weeks (or maybe not… hanging chads anyone?). My guess is that Obama will probably win a narrow victory. But a lot can happen in two weeks.

Content Director’s Note: This post is a part of our Election Month at Patheos feature. Patheos was designed to present the world’s most compelling conservations on life’s most important questions. Please join the Facebook following for our new News and Politics Channel — and check back throughout the month for more commentary on Election 2012. Please use hashtag #PatheosElection on Twitter.

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  • Claude

    Lastly, this debate is mostly about appearing substantial, and Romney already passed the gravitas test in the first debate.

    If by gravitas you mean the moral turpitude to convincingly portray oneself as a “moderate” for ninety minutes after running as a far-right candidate for the past eighteen months, I see your point.

    Then there’s the conventional wisdom that this debate doesn’t matter, since foreign policy doesn’t matter to Americans. For a debate that was ostensibly dedicated to foreign policy, this debate was a travesty, lacking in seriousness and scope and regularly degenerating into campaign boilerplate. Second, I note the irony of Romney basically endorsing Obama’s foreign policy, with vague assurances that he would provide better “leadership,” despite his disastrous European debut. Why? Because he made a fortune in private equity? Because he wears the biggest flag pin in the room? What happened to all the neo-con saber-rattling of yore? Suddenly Mitt Romney is a dove.

    Meanwhile, foreign policy matters a great deal, of course. But the punditry, which ought to be in the business of educating the public on complex issues, or at the least not parroting campaign press releases, is too lazy and craven to do so, preferring to obsess about optics, process and horse racing. Well, does Mitt kind of look like he could be Commander-in-Chief? Then he’s passed the bar!

  • John R Huff Jr

    Romney has never passed any gravitas test by looking substantial on any subject.
    The most confusing and confused political contender I have ever seen.
    I don’t trust him for anything.

  • Paul

    Great break down Tim. I just found your blog but I’ll be coming back quite often in the next 13 days for more on this critical election.
    I have a gut feeling that Romney/Ryan might be able to steal Wisconsin simply because of the Paul Ryan factor, but that will be all the more reason that Ohio will be the sweetest plum.

    • James Goebel

      The presidential elecction will go as follows:

      Obama will win: Ohio, Iowa, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Hampshire

      Romney will win: Florida, Virginia and North Carolina

      The determining state will be Pennsylvania

      Romney will win this state. I will be determined that Obama got the most votes and the paperless machines gave it to Romney. This will be challenged. Since the paperless ballots can not be verified it will be taken to the Supreme court. A special election will be held in the state where all votes can be verified. Obama will receive the most votes and it will appear as if he has been re-elected but this will not be the case.

      The electoral votes in the state will be split. The eight democratic delegates will vote for Obama and the twelve republican delegates will vote for Romney. Mitt Romney will be president with 277 electoral votes. Perhaps this will cause us to have paper trails and fair elections going forward returning us to a democracy.

      Probably not.

  • Pante Obikara

    It is unfortunate that many Americans claim they care less about foreign policy. The poll audience that watched the third and final Presidential debate seems to reflect that apathy to foreign policy. Many people around the world see USA as the most powerful and dominant nation in the world now. Without any fear of contradiction, United State’s global economic and political status is directly or indirectly felt by many nations around the world. It may not be surprising to learn that many foreigners and other nations pay attention to American politics especially Presidential elections because they know that the policies of any incoming American administration directly or indirectly affect them too. Most importantly, this nation has been involved in two wars in a decade now. Thousands of lives have been lost and thousands permanently impacted. To make it brief, Americans should care about foreign policy as much as they care about domestic policy. Foreign policy can make or mar the domestic policy. They are interwoven. Do you realise the impact of the wars on the economy and deficit? Think again when you stand aloof to foreign policy issues or belittle foreign policy debates.