David Herdson asks Was his debate win a launch-pad or his last hurrah?
After a gaffe-prone September, Mitt Romney desperately needed a good performance in the first of the presidential debates to be in with a chance of winning. Had Obama scored a clear victory, it’s likely that not only would the polls, which had already been moving in the president’s favour, have continued that trend but also that with the momentum so strongly running against Romney, Republican campaign funds may well have been diverted to key congressional races where it would be thought to make more difference. In short, an Obama win would have been close to a knock-out blow.
It didn’t happen. The Romney who had seen off one Republican challenger after another throughout 2011 and the first few months of 2012 finally showed up to the general election; the one whose defence was determined and solid, who identified and capitalised on his opponents’ weaknesses, and who looked reasonable, capable and competent – not characteristics more recently associated with him.
The question now is whether that was a blip or a turning point? If Romney can deliver a second win in the next debate, the election will suddenly be a much tighter affair. On the other hand, should Obama come off the better, we’ll be back to where we were at the start of the week but with less time and fewer chances for Romney to do anything about it.
Both campaign teams will be well aware of those potential dynamics, so we ought to expect a more animated and less verbose Obama who, if there was an element of complacency, excessive risk-averseness or under-preparation, is unlikely to make the same mistakes. Or he may simply be out of practice: this week’s was the first competitive debate he’s participated in for four years, in contrast to both his 2008 campaign and his opponent this time.
By contrast, Romney is in the position of a football manager whose team is a goal to the good in the second leg of a tie, having lost the first 3-0. He needs to keep pushing but what worked before the break isn’t a guaranteed formula for success.
On top of which, the economy might be perking up at just the right time for Obama. The dramatic drop in the unemployment rate has certainly helped his cause, even if the size of the decline was in part down to an over-reporting of the rate in previous months. It still looks good and blunts one of Romney’s main lines of attack.
Debates are not really Obama’s best medium for communication – he likes to make a case in more than the snappy one-liner moments that provide the popular memories. Even so, even a tie will halt Romney’s renewed momentum. This is probably as good as it will get for the Republican.