By Matthew Barrett
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Mitt Romney and Barack Obama met for the first of three presidential debates last night. Expectations were high for Obama going into the debate, with a majority believing he would be the better debater, a majority believing he would win the election, and polling for the last few weeks which has shown the two candidates a little less even than they had been a month ago.
Despite all that expectation, any serious person would agree that Romney won the debate pretty handsomely. Obama appeared to be tired and distracted, often looking down, and rarely engaging in eye contact with Romney. Romney, on the other hand, looked voters in the eye regularly, and often talked to the President when making his points.
While Obama gave long, rambling, introspective and academic answers, Romney gave clear replies and got his points across often. Indeed, after the debate, statistics showed Obama had spoken for several minutes longer than Romney, but it felt quite different at the time.
Commentators handed the victory to Romney, and I've picked out some of the best. Firstly, Alex Massie of the Spectator:
"With the possible exception of a highly technical exchange on Medicare I’m not sure [Obama] won a single round. Romney by contrast was back to his best. The 27 debates he endured against his Republican challengers in the spring proved good preparation for this contest. He was consistently sharper and quicker to the punch than Obama and much, perhaps even most, of the time his blows were heavier too."
Tim Stanley of TelegraphBlogs:
"Constantly, Obama tried to articulate a centrist message. But that message committed the greatest crime you can commit on live TV: it was boring. There was no passion, no class rhetoric and no personal stories. He seems to have had the hope and change drained from him. Obama closed by promising to fight “just as hard” in the second term as he had in the first. That translates as, “More of the same.” To anyone unemployed, under-employed or struggling to get by, that's a miserable prospect."
Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post:
"There was also a noticeable difference in demeanor between the two candidates. Romney was relaxed and good-humored. He frequently wove into his answers stories of people he had met on the campaign trail. Obama, meanwhile, looked alternately annoyed and lost. He seemed flat. He grimaced and huffed when Romney spoke, coming dangerously close to Al Gore-parody territory. At times he veered into complaints about the nation’s education system and tax code, as if he hadn’t been president for the last four years."
Andew Sullivan of the Daily Beast:
"He was entirely defensive, which may have been the strategy. But it was the wrong strategy. At the wrong moment. The person with authority on that stage was Romney – offered it by one of the lamest moderators ever, and seized with relish. This was Romney the salesman. And my gut tells me he sold a few voters on a change tonight. It's beyond depressing. But it's true."
Finally, Gary Young of the Guardian:
"In the end there were no zingers; no knockout blows; no major blunders. But there was a winner: Mitt Romney. After several reboots and roll-outs he finally, finally found his voice. He wasn't likeable, but he was believable. Gone were the gaffes, the stiff, wooden persona and the excessive caution. He came out fighting and he kept on swinging. Fluent, strident, confident – he made his case."
The commentariat was not alone in giving victory to Romney, the American public appears to have taken note – as some polling from CNN shows:
"Sixty-seven percent of registered voters who watched the debate said GOP nominee Mitt Romney won the debate, while 25% said President Barack Obama came out as the winner… "No presidential candidate has topped 60% in that question since it was first asked in 1984," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. While nearly half of debate watchers said the showdown didn't make them more likely to vote for either candidate, 35% said the debate made them more likely to vote for Romney while only 18% said the faceoff made them more likely to vote to re-elect the president."
Romney hasn't always seemed like he he's had the right messages over the last fortnight or so, but last night put his presidential bid back on track, and there will be a shift of momentum towards his campaign. The next debate is between the vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden on the (American time) evening of the 11th October.