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.
THE GRAVITAS TEST
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.
WHERE ARE WE AT TWO WEEKS OUT?
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.
MY PREDICTIONS AS OF TODAY
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.
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