Ten Miles Square

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October 04, 2012 12:41 PM Colorado Debate

By Jonathan Bernstein

Short version: Romney performed well while Obama was flat; Romney’s policies come out of the debate even more muddled than before; and the whole thing was probably dull for most viewers, featuring no memorable gaffes or great lines, which might suggest it will disappear from the headlines quicker than most of these things do.

Since then, I’ve seen a little of what pundits are saying and the instant polls, both of which came in strongly for Romney. I wasn’t sure that would be the case (on the instant polls); I didn’t say anything about it over at PP, but while I thought Romney did very well in body language and demeanor while talking, I thought the split screen while Obama was talking was awful for him. And I thought that might turn up in the instant polls of viewers. In that, I was clearly wrong.

The upshot of all that is that the media flow of information for at least a bit is going to be solidly pro-Romney, which in turn will likely move the horse race polls, at least a bit. The questions coming out of it on those grounds are whether that will last long; some of that is going to be media driven with little the candidates can do about it, and some will, I think, be based on whether Team Obama will be able to counterattack on some of Romney’s policy vulnerabilities. But remember that there aren’t all that many undecided voters out there, so significant shifts, even in temporary bounces, are not all that likely.

Other notes:

1. I thought the debate was generally well-moderated. I pretty much like the style of sitting back and letting them go at it. It also lowers the importance of the questions, since the candidates were able to mostly talk about what they wanted to talk about. I did think Lehrer’s insistence on characterizing whether the candidates agreed or not was silly, but overall that’s the kind of debate moderation that I think fits best for these things.

2. On policy, the overwhelming theme of the evening was Romney’s choice to basically deny all the obvious implications of any of his policy proposals. This strikes me as relatively unusual. I wasn’t really in intense fact-checking mode, but generally I didn’t think he was outrageous about the state of the nation or, to a lesser extent, what Obama has done in office (I’m willing to be corrected, and I did spot some, but it didn’t strike me as particularly awful). However, almost every time he said that his own plan would do something it usually wouldn’t, and when he denied his plan would do something it usually would. Taxes, budget, health care, financial regulation…that’s what I was hearing. As I said, this strikes me as unusual.

3. One more time on the polls: Barack Obama has been president for three and a half years. If you think the debate tonight was extremely important for the horse race, what you’re saying is that people who have evaluated him over the course of his presidency are going to decide he’s not doing a good job after all. Perhaps you saw that here, or you think we’ll see it in the post-debate coverage over the next few days. I didn’t.

4. Next, the Veep candidates. Might as well get this out now: Paul Ryan may do a great job next week, but while Romney came in underrated (he’s always been a solid debater, as several people have pointed out), Ryan has never even been involved in a statewide debate, let alone a national one. He’s coming in overrated. And Joe Biden has done a lot of these.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.