Republicans Wednesday cheered their standard-bearer Mitt Romney for what they saw as a game-changing debate performance that may reset the presidential race, putting President Barack Obama on the defensive as the campaign races toward the Nov. 6 finish line.
Noted political strategist Dick Morris told Newsmax it was "one of the major wipe outs in a presidential debate that I’ve ever seen. It ranks with Kennedy-Nixon, and Reagan-Carter, and the second Reagan-Mondale debate.”
That sentiment was echoed by author and commentator Michael Reagan, the son of former President Ronald Reagan, who jubilantly tweeted: "Best debate performance by a Republican since Lincoln!"
“This is now a horse race,” declared Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell to Newsmax. “Mr. Romney did what he had to do: Be presidential and show a command of the way to growth and jobs.” A Newsmax/InsiderAdvantage flash poll taken immediately after the debate suggested voters agreed that Romney had seized the upper hand in the debate. Based on surveys of 572 respondents, viewers said Romney defeated Obama in the debate by a 52 percent to 45 percent margin, with 3 percent undecided.
A CNN/ORC International poll of 430 people who viewed the debate reported an even bigger landslide: By a 67 to 25 percent margin, respondents thought Romney won the debate.
So dominant was Romney’s performance that he seemed to overshadow the incumbent president on the stage, despite the fact that the president actually spoke for 4 minutes longer than Romney did, according to the time-keepers. Pundits complained that Obama spent most of his time while Romney was speaking looking down at the notes on the podium, and occasionally shaking his head as Romney hit his policies on job creation, Obamacare, and deficit spending.
As notable as the GOP hosannahs were Democrats who bemoaned that the president, who perhaps tried too hard to avoid a damaging gaffe in order to protect his lead in many swing-state polls, had stumbled.
“He was playing soft,” MSNBC host Ed Schultz complained of the president’s performance afterward. “He was in a prevent defense big time.”
Lefty comedian Bill Maher didn’t even wait for the debate’s conclusion before venting his disappointment with Obama.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” he tweeted, “but Obama looks like he DOES need a teleprompter.”
For Maher, the president's performance must have been all the more bitter as he has personally donated $1 million to Obama’s Super Pac.
Democrats voiced concern that Obama appeared uncomfortable and occasionally flustered in his responses. But Republicans, who nervously watched Romney slide in the polls until he began to rally earlier this week, were ebullient.
GOP strategist and former George W. Bush senior staffer Brad Blakeman told Newsmax that Romney did “extremely well, adding: “He was commanding, he was factual, he was specific. I think the president was on defense… As president, Obama did not seem to be as presidential as Romney did.”
On Fox News, longtime conservative Pat Buchanan called it Romney’s best debate performance ever, adding that Obama spent most of the night on the defensive.
“The governor kept coming back at him, he had a smile on his face, he did it in a friendly manner,” he said. “Gov. Romney really needed to do something here to invigorate his troops, and I think he did it. I don’t know how he could have done a better job.”
Romney slammed the Obama administration for making multi-billion dollar investments in green-energy programs, including grants to companies such as Solyndra that have filed for bankruptcy.
“I had a friend who said you don’t just pick the winners and the losers, you pick the losers,” Romney quipped, looking at the president directly.
The former Massachusetts governor said the president should have listened to his own Simpson-Bowles commission recommendations for reducing the budget deficit. Obama shot back that he was now preparing a budget, with his own modification, that would accomplish precisely that.
“But you’ve been president four years…” Romney appeared to remind the president, as Obama nodded. “We still show trillion dollar deficits every year.”
At times both candidates ran afoul of the scores of fact-checkers perusing every assertion. President Obama claimed he put forward a $4 trillion plan to reduce the deficit. “It’s on a website,” he said. “You can look at all the numbers.”
ABC did so, and rated the claim “mostly fiction.” Obama’s plan includes the $1 trillion Congress has already agreed to, and $1 trillion from winding down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are already coming to a close. ABC also rated as mostly fiction the president’s repeated assertion that Romney’s tax plan would add $5 trillion to the deficit.
Romney on the other hand was taken to task for claiming healthcare costs have risen by $2,500 per family in the wake of the president’s reforms. Factcheck.org labeled that assertion as false because only a small portion of the rise in costs is attributable to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
More important than the policy details, however, is likely to be the impression left by a well-prepared Republican opponent with a happy-warrior glint articulating his policy positions while the president on a split screen appeared to look downward unhappily at what he was hearing.
Obama rallied as the debate went on. One strong point for the president was when he suggested Romney is being intentionally vague about his specific proposals to solve the nation’s problems.
“At some point I think the American people have to ask is the reason Gov. Romney is keeping all these solutions to these problems secret because they are too good?” Obama pointed asked.
Romney responded that his approach is intended to lay down principles, while leaving room for other parties to participate in finding a solution in a bipartisan way.
“My experience as governor [is] if I come in and lay down a piece of paper and say, ‘It’s my way or the highway, I don’t get a lot done,’” he said.
Obama also appeared to concede at one point that Romney’s policies on Social Security and Medicare reform do not differ markedly from his own, which could complicate his campaign’s ongoing effort to use the “Medi-scare” issue to win over seniors.
And the president insisted that consumers can keep their existing policies under his healthcare reforms. Several independent studies have projected that millions of Americans will lose their current insurer, however.
Now strategists will nervously watch the polls to see how the political balance shifts. GOP Strategist Steve Schmidt predicted on MSNBC that Romney’s performance will have a significant impact.
“Barack Obama had the ability to come in her tonight and I think basically put the race away,” said Schmidt. “Mitt Romney was on the ropes. Even a performance that ended in a draw would have effectively I think ended the campaign, would have frozen it in place, would have made it very, very difficult for Mitt Romney to have dynamic movement in the polls. I think you are going to see movement in the polls toward Mitt Romney.”
Obama’s next opportunity to get back in the arena against Romney won’t come until the Oct.16 townhall-style debate at Hofstra University in New York.
The next debate, to be held Oct. 11, will be between Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan.
Ryan will try to solidify the impression left by Romney that the GOP ticket is a viable alternative. Biden will try to score points while avoiding the gaffes that have made him an inconsistent surrogate for Team Obama.
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