If you were scoring this as a prize fight – the football analogy just wasn’t working anymore – Barack Obama went toe to toe with the guy who cleaned his clock two weeks ago and, in the process, not only managed to get in some good shots, but just might well have saved his campaign. Score it a split decision for the incumbent.
Let’s be honest, if anybody was expecting either one of these two men to lay an egg and get knocked out that was wishful thinking. What I was looking for from the President was a spine. Could he successfully rebut Mitt Romney and, at the same time, stand up for himself and take back some of those undecided voters who had jumped overboard after the Denver debacle?
Based on what happened in this debate – and from the initial polls taken of independents immediately after – the answer to both is yes. Less than a week after his Veep stood up to Paul Ryan, Obama followed up with a performance equally impressive, energized and passionate. Romney was not able to spin his web of deceit with impunity the way he did the last time around. Obama called him out on it and, on several occasions, Romney appeared to be on the defensive. The exchange over the attack on Benghazi was the low point for the former governor of Massachusetts. The President read him out like a wayward child. Quite frankly, I was embarrassed for Romney.
The real question is what impact will this debate have on the polls in the all-important swing states? As of now, Obama holds a precarious lead in enough of them to carry him over the 270 electoral vote threshold. While Joe Biden may have stopped the hemorrhaging last week, the painful fact is that the Denver debate caused a lot of damage. The greatest harm done was allowing Mitt Romney to look presidential in front of millions of viewers. Was Obama’s performance a game changer on the same order as Denver?
My gut tells me probably not. Once Lex Luthor came off looking like Clark Kent, let’s face it, it was going to be very difficult to walk that puppy back. You don’t get do-overs in debates, no matter how hard you try.
But this was significant nonetheless in the sense that Obama was able to heal many of the self-inflicted wounds he sustained two weeks ago and successfully erase an image that was beginning to fester in the minds of a lot of voters that he somehow either a) didn’t want the job or b) deserve it. In that respect, some of the wind that Romney had behind his sails is now gone and the President now looks more, well, presidential. Don’t kid yourself; looking the part goes a long way, especially to the still undecided.
Bottom line, I don’t think Obama is out of the woods just yet. He will, no doubt, get a bump out of this debate performance, and deservedly so. I expect his lead in most of the swing states will increase somewhat; how much we will have to wait and see. But, overall, I don’t expect any major change to the political landscape.
It’ll all come down to the final debate next week, which will be entirely on foreign policy. It’s a debate the Obama campaign should win, even with the unfortunate tragedy in Libya.
Translation: this is now Barack Obama’s race to lose. Again!