Tuesday night’s Presidential debate, the second of three, did not disappoint. Both camps have some positive takeaways that may help their campaigns in the final weeks leading up to the election on November 6. I do not think there was a clear winner but I’d give the edge slightly to President Obama. Others may think that President Obama came out on top and as a supporter of the President I’d like to say the same but I can’t considering the debates target audience.
President Obama did a much better job last night than in his previous debate performance but given how poorly he performed last time all he had to do last night was show up with a pulse and look alive and that would have been an improvement. To the President’s credit, he did a lot more than show up, he performed as he was expected to in the first debate, punching back at Governor Romney and putting him on the defensive.
However, Tuesday night’s debate was less about shoring up each candidate’s base of support and more about securing swing votes or the allegiance of undecided voters. Roughly 2/3 of likely voters have already made their decision as to which candidate they’ll support so this debate was about the 35% or so that have not. I’m not so sure either candidate won the majority of them over. My instinct is that among undecided voters it was more of a draw. President Obama may have been the winner on style and substance, he was crisper, sharper, more energetic and adept at pointing out inconsistencies and shortcomings of Governor Romney’s positions. Like when he responded to Governor Romney’s tough talk on China by insisting that Governor Romney is the last person to crack down on China’s trade and currency abuses being that he outsourced jobs to China and got rich partly by doing business in China.
But President Obama has a record and a lot of people who supported him in 2008 are not only dissatisfied but doubtful that he’s up to the job of delivering jobs, especially the high skilled, high wage jobs he stated he’d like to see. An African American member of the audience expressed this concern in the form of a question. In effect stating how he supported Obama in 2008 but is less optimistic now than he was then, asking why he should vote for him again? President Obama responded by listing what he’s accomplished relative to what he’s promised – such as ending the Iraq war and passing the Affordable Care Act then asking for his vote since there was more left to do.
Governor Romney who has a toxic Republican brand working against him was not immune to skepticism either. Another member of the audience expressed reluctance to support Governor Romney because he’s associated with the failed economic policies of President Bush and asked him what differentiates him from Bush. Governor Romney failed in my opinion to sufficiently separate himself from Bush by basically asserting that the times were different when Bush was President and the circumstances since have changed, as if it was not just four years ago.
Yet, for those unfamiliar with Governor Romney’s record as Governor of Massachusetts and CEO of Bain Capital or his political shiftiness, the platitudes and vagaries with which he spoke in last night’s debate may sound good and be enough to garner their support. Some will like the fact that in last night’s debate Governor Romney emphasized a five point economic plan, a condensed version of the 54 point plan he touted during the primaries. President Obama was quick to pounce on Governor Romney’s five point plan referring to it as a 1 point plan that benefit’s the rich. But in the mind of low information, rhetoric dependent voters, Magical Mitt’s “trust me” appeal has been working.
His camp’s belief that more voters today are low information voters who cast ballots based on arbitrary factors is why this race is as close as it is. Even when the moderator questioned the mathematical plausibility of his plan to cut taxes 20% across the board, he basically said that he’s a business guy who knows how to balance budgets and we need to trust him. Some will say that in last night’s debate Governor Romney came off as mean, pushy and disrespectful to both the moderator and the President. A criticism leveled against him after the first debate yet he still got a bump in the polls. Others may just call it being competitive, the behavior of an alpha male who really wants to win and overlook it.
In the end, I’d conclude that last night’s debate coupled with the lower unemployment numbers of last week and the increasing sense that the economy is gradually improving stopped Governor Romney’s momentum coming off the first debate. I would suspect that the President’s lead in the polls would widen a tad leading into the final debate and if he at least break’s even he’ll win the general election by a slightly narrower margin than that of 2008.
If the President had done a better job communicating a vision for his second term and why it would be even better than his first perhaps this election would not be as close and their would not be such a high percentage of undecided voters. But he hasn’t and if I’m right that last night’s debate was a draw among undecided voters then this election may come down to who low information voters are more comfortable with come election day. The advantage is still Obama’s.