Four decades ago, the Bee Gees sang, “Feel I’m goin’ home to Massachusetts. / Something’s telling me I must go home. / And the lights all went out in Massachusetts. / The day I left her standing on her own.”
Mitt Romney can’t quite get the word “Massachusetts” out of his mouth, but he repeatedly bragged about [his “home” state] in Tuesday’s presidential debate. Ironically, President Obama is going to clobber him in [that state] on Election Day.
CNN’s scientific poll showed 46 percent of registered voters who watched the debate said the president won, while 39 percent gave it to Romney. Looking at issues like the economy, deficit and taxes, however, Romney came out ahead. This shows that voters make decisions with both their heads and hearts.
Unscientifically, Obama improved greatly. He was engaged, prepared and, at times, downright prosecutorial. Romney was about the same as he was in the first debate.
Obama’s High Points
The president obviously read my pre-debate suggestions and decided to go after Romney from the jump. He punched holes in the claim that Romney can magically cut taxes for everyone by 20 percent while reducing the deficit. The faulty math was revealed by CNN after the debate and to quote the president, it just doesn’t add up.
Obama’s best line — and maybe the only good line from either of them — came when Romney suddenly asked Obama to his face if he had checked his pension lately, probably to set up a line about the foreign holdings in the president’s portfolio. Before Romney could pounce, Obama shot back, “I don’t look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours.” A blow for small investors everywhere.
Obama also scored when asked what he’d done to deserve reelection. He engaged in a blizzard of accomplishments saying he cut taxes, reined in Wall Street, saved the auto industry, and ended American military involvement in Iraq. More important, he spoke of a longer range strategy, something he has not done up to this point.
Romney’s Best Moment
Romney’s best moment came when he talked about affirmative action in his choice of cabinet members in [that state] when he was governor of [that place], although the questioner asked about pay differences between men and women. He cited a national survey of state administrations showed [that place] was number one in hiring women for high-ranking jobs — not exactly what the woman in the audience was ready for. His criticism of China’s trade practices forces him to walk a tight rope; the ex-governor has holdings in China and his Bain Capital forced companies to ship U.S. jobs there
At one point he called Bain “a small business.” He must’ve been thinking of the size of taxes its executives pay. Romney must have said “small business” a dozen times. Clearly polling and/or focus groups showed it was a favorite underdog for voters.
His energy policy is a cleaned up version of Sarah Palin’s “drill, baby, drill.” Obama was able to hang the Salem [that state] coal-fired power plant around Romney’s neck, since he promised to close it and it stayed open.
Romney reinforced his cold side with a pushy approach to moderator Candy Crowley, often insisting he had more time coming. He may have been correct but his style was jagged compared to Obama’s and more aggressive than it had to be.
On a subject that the candidates take seriously, but the public has yet to, they clashed over the killing of the ambassador and embassy officials in Benghazi, Libya. Crowley corrected Romney, saying the president had indeed referred to the incident as an “act of terror” soon after it happened.
Romney talked about himself, his church and his belief in God. He mentioned that in [his state] he helped pass universal health insurance coverage and the [that place’s] schools were rated number one. Obama talked about people who, to use the Bill Clinton cliché, “play by the rules” and that he wanted everyone to play by the same rules — a dig at wealthy people who use loopholes not available to the rest of us. He called Romney “a good man,” and balanced it with the 47 percent line from the hidden video of Romney captured talking privately to rich people about the rest of us.
The After Party
It’s possible I didn’t see Romney but in watching CNN after the debate, it seemed like the president spent a lot of time on the stage as he and his citizen questioners smiled and posed for pictures. As icy as he was in the debate, the president was warm and relaxed after it. With good reason.
Dan Payne is WBUR’s Democratic analyst. For more political commentary, go to our Payne & Domke page.