Romney Decisively Wins Debate; Obama Manages To Stay Awake

President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speak during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday. (Eric Gay/AP)

President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speak during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday. (Eric Gay/AP)

In a CNN poll of viewers of Wednesday night’s first presidential debate, 67 percent thought Mitt Romney won, while only 25 percent gave it to President Obama.

The debate was surprisingly lopsided. Romney has never been as persuasive.

Obama, by contrast, lacked energy and focus. It was as if he just woke up from a nap. He didn’t have any great moments or seemed passionate about anything. He spoke longer, by four minutes, but seemed to say less.

The CNN poll also had these surprising results:

- Who was more likable? Romney 46 percent, Obama 45 percent

- Who was the stronger leader? Romney 58 percent, Obama 37 percent

- Who did the debate make you more likely to vote for? Romney 35 percent, Obama 18 percent, Neither 47 percent

In the poll, voters favored Romney on handling the economy, 55 to 43 percent. In recent weeks Romney’s support on that all-important issue had eroded.

Who would better handle health care? Romney 52 percent, Obama 47 percent. Taxes? Romney 53 percent, Obama 44 percent. Some Democrats might now fault the poll sample, as Republicans have been complaining about the samples of recent polls showing Romney behind. But clearly it was not a good night for the Obama campaign, as evidenced by their leaving the debate Spin Room much earlier than the Romney surrogates, who were enjoying themselves.

Debates rarely produce such a clear winner.

I expected that “47 percent” would be the key figure in this debate, and it was. Obama was on the defensive about 47 percent of the time.

Obama supporters will remain supportive. But this debate could open the minds of some undecided, independent voters in swing states. It will also change the way the media cover this race. Instead of focusing on Obama’s lead in the polls and Romney’s stumbles, now — as predicted by N.J. Gov. Chris Christie — the dynamic of the race will change.

The least believable line in the debate was Obama saying, in his closing, that it was a “terrific debate.” You could tell from his expression that he didn’t believe it.

The line that will inspire Romney supporters was his saying that Obama believed in “trickle-down government.”

Some Obama supporters are disappointed, but they won’t be demoralized. They know their candidate is better than what they saw on stage and will likely do better in the next debate. But they are mystified as to why he was so listless and failed to go after Romney more effectively. His language and arguments seem old and tired.

If you compare the closing statements, you’ll see that Romney came prepared whereas Obama barely showed up. Romney gave a two-minute speech that made an eloquent case for change. He criticized Obama policies with specificity, yet kept the arguments at the higher level of the nation deserving a new, better path — rather than sounding too partisan.

Obama’s closing was pretty unfocused. He didn’t have a clear, compelling argument for why he deserved re-election.

Obama actually seemed to nod in agreement when Romney was rebutting some of the standard charges made against him. When Romney said that his plan to cut taxes would not reduce government revenue by $5 trillion over 10 years, Obama said, “OK.”

Romney was able to sound bipartisan at times, moderate on education and financial regulation, and took the threat out of “MediScare” when the president agreed that Romney’s changes wouldn’t affect current retirees. That’s a big issue for the Democrats to give up, and their candidates must have found that worrisome.

In body language, Romney seemed the stronger, more self-assured candidate. He seemed, in a word, presidential. He looked at the president while talking and, when not taking notes, listening to him. By contrast, Obama didn’t seem to know where to look — he kept shifting his attention, from the moderator and audience to his opponent. He didn’t look comfortable — as if he was surprised to hear such direct criticism of his policies.

The debate was more substantive than any we’ve seen for a while. The questions were important and fair. The format and moderator allowed for plenty of give-and-take.

Polls before the debate showed that most people expected Obama to win this debate. Romney not only beat that expectation, he far exceeded expectations of his supporters.

Maybe Obama’s debate coaches or the moderator will be blamed by his fans for his weak performance. But you can bet that he’ll have a very different style in the next debate. If he doesn’t, this will become a very different contest.

Todd Domke is WBUR’s Republican analyst. For more political commentary, go to our Payne & Domke page.

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  • dcinsider

    It is so unfortunate that I agree with this analysis.  Obama had this dope on the mat and let him get up.  Forget about an Obama landslide, this is going to be a squeaker.

  • Roxsaknees

    The only person that lost that debate was Jim Lehrer he let Romney bully him and it got totally out hand all it was, was more Romney Talking pints and a total shift to the middle in everything he has said in the last 6 months more flip flop than substance

    • Beth

      Obama was given more time to speak then Romney. You are as obliviuos as Obama.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/NG4UZC44SCTIJ3RGLUVMO645ZM Rudolf

    Obama’s performance reflected his performance in his four years in office –
    lackluster. He couldn’t point to his positive effect on the U.S. economy because
    there wasn’t any, it just limped along without any help from his program. He
    points to what Romney would do because he can’t point to what he has done.

  • Claudia

    Very gracious and fair assessment.  But do you think the moderator had any influence on how it went? 

  • J__o__h__n

    Did you write this before the fact checkers weighed in?

  • Eugenia Marcus

    I was sorry that Obama came off as tired and unenergized.  He’ much better than that. His stump speeches are full of fire and vigor. It will be a disaster for the American people if Romney is elected. We need Obamacare and repealing it will leave 50 million uninsured which will continue to drive the health care costs up. Eliminate funding for NPR. Attacking Big Bird.  Romney has no heart. But the linchpin for me is a topic that was not on the agenda last night. That is, a women’s right to be in charge of her own health care, whatever she needs. That includes her reproductive health. I continue to contribute to Obama and I will vote for him.

  • Chris

    I’m currently still planning on voting for Obama, but this is some yellow journalism at best stating that “Obama decisively won the debate”. I’m pretty sure just about everyone with a rational, unbiased perspective and a little integrity knows that Mitt had the edge.

    • P_h_o_e_b_e

      I believe the title of the article is “Romney Decisively Wins Debate”….

  • Sicilianese

    Obama was more statesmanlike, but Romney was more domineering, pushy  and aggressive- even a bit intimidating.  For many, this amounts to “winning” the debate. For me, the debate shouldn’t be about winning, but more like a job interview conducted by we the people. This is not a version of “survivor.”  

  • P_h_o_e_b_e

    Two questions:  

    (1)  Who else remembers all the different positions Romney has taken leading up to this debate?  

    (2)  Do voters in this country really believe that this Ship of State turns on a dime—that the mess this country was in when Obama took office can be undone in just four years?  

  • Jim Grunseth

    The question is: Who has more talent, track record experience, and innate leadership qualities to LEAD our wounded nation to health and strength again?       Mitt…there can be no question!

  • Sengabi


  • Charles

    Mr. Domke,

    As was true of much of Mr. Romney’s desperately energetic speaking last night, your observations about the tenor of the debate are low on facts and high on spin. If one were to actually analyze what happened last night — whether on verbalization or on  non-verbal, physical posture — it would expose your conclusions as so much hyperpartisan bias. I defy you to perform an analysis of the debate based on facts and to present those facts in a comprehensible format.

    • razorfish

      Charles: You’re hurting today, so it’s understandable that you’re lashing out at Mr. Domke, but 67% of respondents to CNN’s poll felt that Romney won the debate. That means that Romney won the debate. You apparently have your own metrics for analyzing debate performance, according to which the President won. Mr. Domke presented his analysis; why don’t you present yours?

      • Charles

        Sorry, my rationality got away from me yesterday. I forgot that debates in the political arena are “won” and “lost” on impressions as measured by polls rather than point for point analysis of how questions were addressed. What was I thinking?

        • PattyFishRazor

          Frickin’ analyze it, Chuck!

    • razorfish

      Charles, you split an infinitive there (“to actually analyze”). I want you to know that it’s okay with me, but some hidebound grammarians might mark you down for it.

  • Bluefishpatty

    Well everyone saw it..heard it, and have commented on it…Romney kicked Obama’s butt… I’m glad…and it was good to see…but the best is watching his “people” try to spin his horrible performance and diminsh Romneys.

    Occasionally, when I swim in a pond or lake.. I will meet them…They attach themselves to me..and I have to rub salt on them to get them off… WAIT! Am I talking about the spin masters..or the 47 percent that pays nothing to live here…hmmmm

    I guess a leech is a leech…

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