October 17, 2012 at 7:05 am
President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney met in a feisty debate Wednesday evening. Here are Lynn professor Robert Watson’s five takeaways:
1. This was the 20th anniversary of the town hall format for debates and these debates, which involve questions from regular citizens and undecided voters, often produce memorable moments. Indeed, the questions were tough and a few came from “out of the blue.” But, unlike 1992, where President George H.W. Bush stumbled badly and appeared disconnected from the experiences of the audience (allowing Bill Clinton to score major points with his ability to relate to average citizens and thereby change the complexion of that campaign), neither candidate tripped. Barack Obama and Mitt Romney appeared comfortable and confident, and connected with the studio audience… and, more importantly, the larger public.
2 Once again, Obama and Romney showed themselves to be articulate, informed, and quite verbose. It was a solid debate and both candidates likely accomplished what they needed to do. Romney avoided a major gaffe and dispelled concerns that he doesn’t relate well to regular voters. Obama stopped the bleeding from his weak performance in the first debate by effectively defending his record and putting Romney on the defensive over his previous comments and policy positions. Removed from behind a podium, Obama the overly professorial thinker was replaced by the empathetic, likable candidate that connected with voters in 2008.
3. Candy Crowley struggled to control the long-winded candidates, but still delivered a better performance than Jim Lehrer in the first debate. Moreover, despite a few nervous members of the audience, it seems inescapable that the town hall style of debate is vastly superior to having candidates stand behind podiums and give short, scripted speeches. We need more of these type of debates.
4. There are such clear differences in the candidate’s style and policies that it is shocking that there are still real undecided voters. Yet, after two years of campaigning, hundreds of political speeches delivered, a billion dollars spent, and countless hands shaken this race will likely come down to the wire… From this point on, everything matters, including the final debate on October 22 and the campaigns’ ability to get out their base on Election Day.
5. Another poor performance by Obama would have been devastating to his campaign. But, the President won the debate (which will energize his base). Still, Romney delivered another strong performance (which will energize his base) and, for the most part, held his own. So, the question remains whether this debate will move the numbers and sway those few voters who are still undecided. The third quarter of this football game is over and the score is tied. Fasten your seatbelts for a thrilling fourth quarter!
Robert Watson, Ph.D. has published 34 books on American politics and history and serves as Professor and Coordinator of American Studies at Lynn University, site of the final presidential debate of 2012