October 16, 2012

Obama Takes Second Debate, But Will It Matter?

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Like many of my fellow Cornellians, this week is rather busy for me, so I have to keep this recap rather short. What follows is my impression of last night’s debate.

Obama gets his act together

My column this Monday alluded to the fact that Democrats were (rightly) depressed by the performance President Obama gave in the first debate. In that column, I argued that Vice President Biden provided the President with a template of a debate style that could successfully challenge the shape-shifting Governor from Massachusetts.

Obama did me one better, he was forceful and assertive – frequently calling out Romney for his “untruths” – but he didn’t resort to the mockery that permeated Biden’s performance.

The incident that sticks out most in my mind is when the candidates were discussing the attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, the President turned away from the audience and looked directly at his opponent. He scolded Romney for, in the immediate aftermath of the attack, releasing a statement attacking the administration’s response. This style of aggressive dressing down was something we simply did not see from the President in the first debate.

But, Mitt Romney held his own

The instant polls, among undecided voters appear to show that the President won the debate by around 5 points. That’s good for Obama, but not great. Romney held his own. His messaging on the economy and job creation is really sharp and Obama cannot connect on this issue to the same degree.

Few voters have time for the complex nuisances of the Great Recession. When Romney brings up the fact that the President predicted that his stimulus would render unemployment the 5s today, opposed to the current 7.8%, there is no opportunity for Obama to shift blame on the economic conditions and not sound weak and irresponsible.

Another strong moderator

Candy Crowley had clearly observed the responses to the moderators in the past fortnight. Jim Lehrer was universally panned for his soft performance, and Martha Raddatz extolled for her assertive routine. Crowley didn’t quite hit the Raddatz high mark, but she did display moments of virtuosity, like when she fact-checked Governor Romney’s assertion that President Obama did not label the Benghazi attack “terrorism.” Crowley, doing her best Will McAvoy impression, quickly informed Romney that the President had, indeed, labeled the attack as terrorism.

Key question

Are voters going to look for a reason to vote for Obama?

If the answer is yes, than the President’s polling dip was simply due to the fact that he failed so spectacularly in the first debate. Furthermore, it means that the President’s polls should bounce up considerably, since this debate performance gave ample reasons to support the President.

If the answer is no, and voters are instead looking for reasons to vote for Governor Romney, than the Governor’s decent performance in the second debate ought to stem the tide of a possible Obama polling bump after yesterday.

Watch the polls

The race is essentially tied right now. By the end of the week we should have a decent idea of where the candidates’ numbers are heading. I would expect that the President receives a bump, but it will not get him back up (or beyond) his post-convention high water polling performances.

Binders of women

Maybe I’m not as attuned to the emotions behind this meme, but I don’t find it particularly damaging to Governor Romney. When Romney said that he was given “whole binders full of women,” my friends and I laughed at the curious wording of the phrase, but we didn’t find it especially demeaning to women. I’m interested to see what effect it might have on the race, especially when it comes to the share of female voters Romney is getting. Any benefit it gives the President will probably come from the fact that Romney’s silly phrasing is getting a lot of attention.

Although, I may be wrong. Please feel free to comment bellow if you found the “binders” comment especially disrespectful, or if you have any other axe to grind. If you don’t comment, I’ll just assume you completely agree with everything I said.

Original Author: Noah Karr-Kaitin

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