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Obama camp left explaining his debate performance

October 4, 2012 by Scott Bomboy


The team behind President Barack Obama’s re-election bid was left explaining his debate performance on Wednesday night, but history shows Mitt Romney shouldn't get too overconfident.

Obama and GOP contender Mitt Romney sparred for 90 minutes in Denver, with round one going to Romney, in the eyes of the media. Romney was the aggressor for much of the night.

The New York Times has a rundown of early polling analysis of the Denver debate, and three polls gave the debate to Romney by a comfortable margin.

A CNN poll of debate-watchers had Romney winning by a 67 to 25 percent margin; a CBS poll had Romney winning by a 46-22 margin; and an online Google poll had a 48-25 win for Romney in a post-debate survey.

Vice President Joe Biden praised President Obama after the debate.

"Folks, I hope you saw what I saw tonight: two candidates with fundamentally different visions and a fundamentally different set of values," he said.

However, Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter didn’t praise moderator Jim Lehrer.

"I sometimes wondered if we even needed a moderator because we had Mitt Romney," Cutter told CNN. She also conceded to CNN that Romney won the "style points" portion of the debate.

Among the biggest Obama critics were Chris Matthews and Ed Schultz from MSNBC.

“Here's my question for Obama. I know he likes to say he doesn't watch cable television, but maybe he should start. Maybe he should start,” Matthews said in a well-publicized rant after the debate on MSNBC about the president not mentioning Romney’s career at Bain Capital or his “47 percent” speech.

“I don’t think he explained himself very well on the economy. I think he was off his game. I was absolutely stunned tonight,” Ed Schultz said.

A key factor that might have hurt President Obama was the use of a split-screen shot by the directors who were handling television production. The camera shots showed Obama staring downward, while Romney was shown as eager to rebut Obama.

But if history is any judge, the next debate could be as crucial as the first, and Mitt Romney shouldn’t be too overconfident.

In 1984, a “rusty” Ronald Reagan was out-debated by Walter Mondale in their first encounter. Like Romney in 2012, Mondale had debated in the 1984 primaries, while Reagan’s last debate was four years earlier.

Reagan recovered to take the second debate from Mondale.

Also, in 1976 the second debate was crucial to the Gerald Ford-Jimmy Carter contest, when Ford misspoke about Eastern Europe.

The second debate this year is at Hofstra University, in Hempstead, N.Y. on Tuesday, October 16. It will be a town hall forum.

As we discussed earlier this week, some debate experts believe the town hall format doesn’t suit President Obama well, since he has had a tendency to slip into “professor mode” when answering questions.

Romney will also face challenges since the topics won’t be known in advance and will come from independent voters in the audience.

Among those topics will be questions about foreign policy, which isn’t seen as a Romney strong point. But it will also be a chance for the GOP contender to turn that perception around.

Scott Bomboy is the editor-in-chief of the National Constitution Center.

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