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Oct 04 2012

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Romney Becomes “Mr. October”

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Round #1 TKO for Romney

Presidential debates are a form of self induced torture for me. Any Cubs fan who has lived to see the team play in post-season knows what I’m talking about – or all those pre 2004 Red Sox fans.

For most of my adult life, the Democratic candidate for president has been the better debater. So I have learned to set the bar low for the GOP nominees; get through the debates –  avoid any significant gaffes – hope for an error by the opponent, and get back to the campaign trail.

Last night, with Mitt Romney, all of that changed. From the moment that Romney walked on stage, he dominated the debate.

Brimming with energy and confidence, and clearly well prepared, Romney effectively dismantled Team Obama’s wives tales about his background and agenda, while hitting President Obama again and again over his record on the last four years.

But there was more to it than simple command of the facts; Romney mastered the nuance.

The former governor deftly managed to make his strong critique of the President’s record in a calm, factual tone, vigorously contesting POTUS on jobs, taxes, energy, health care and the deficit.  Moreover, Romney was able to unite these critiques into a larger thematic argument against the President’s leadership that set out a viable, alternate GOP governing vision, augmented by a convincing case that as President, he could deliver bipartisanship to end the gridlock in Washington.

 In executing on all these goals, Romney erased doubts about his competence, and crucially about his sense of fairness and understanding of middle class concerns. And he did it all while appearing relaxed and good humored.  Indeed, Romney looked like he was enjoying himself.

It was easily the best performance by a GOP nominee in a presidential debate in more than 30 years.

In stark contrast, President Obama was flat and unfocused.

The President opened the debate by reciting, virtually verbatim, the “closing argument” ad (where he addressed the camera directly) that had been broadcast heavily during the last two weeks. Many of the President’s statements were little more than recycled vignettes from his stump speech, normally delivered to adoring crowds where no one disagrees.

Indeed, the President seemed unaccustomed to being questioned or contradicted. In rebuttals, President Obama seemed to engage in a sort of free-association that touched on multiple topics without making a point.

As the evening progressed, he appeared annoyed and grimacing, occasionally huffing while Romney spoke. You couldn’t help but get the sense that Obama would have preferred to be meeting with Bibi Netanyahu than be on the stage with Romney.

While Romney vigorously defended his record and agenda, Obama was strangely silent at critical points in the debate, allowing what should have been some easy openings to simply slip by.

It was probably Barack Obama’s worst debate performance in his political career.

Those two results – Romney vastly exceeding expectations and Obama under-performing, should change the dynamics of the race.

Team Romney desperately needed a fresh start and a second look from the American people, and he got that last night. A Frank Luntz focus group of Independent Colorado voters showed a remarkable shift to Romney after the debate. That is far from conclusive, mind you, but it is hopeful.

The key question now is whether Romney can maintain the initiative he seized last night and use it over the next 30 days to win the election.

There are three debates left.  Paul Ryan and Vice President Biden are up next, a week from today. And then, Romney and the President will meet twice again. If history is any guide, the the President who shows up at the next debate will be more focused and and effective. It is unlikely that the disparity we saw last night will be on display in the final two meetings.

That said, the difference between a star and a superior athlete is the ability to deliver on time under enormous pressure.

Last night, Romney delivered.

The stakes for Romney were impossibly high.  In the end, it wasn’t a speech writer or manager or any of the thousands that make a campaign work that could turn things around.  It was completely on Mitt Romney, and he exceeded even the loftiest expectations.

As a result, Romney has proven himself more than equal to the President, capable of handling the job with newfound credible on the issues. In the process, he revitalized his campaign, calmed worried Republicans and provided undecideds with something new to think about in the crucial last month.

By the debate’s last half hour, I was cheering at the TV last night, barely able to believe what I was seeing. It was a feeling that was as good as it was unaccustomed.

Well done, Governor.  Well done.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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