Mitt Romney won the debate. Does it matter?

Mitt Romney and US President Barack Obama  participate in their first debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, 3 October 2012 The Obama team wants to pass off Mitt Romney's win as one of style over substance

The first trial is over and the jury's verdict is clear. But the judge's sentence is not.

Conservatives continually accuse the main American media outlets (Fox News excepted) of being in President Obama's corner.

But there was a rare agreement over last night's debate: Mitt was a hit.

What we don't yet know is what the American people make of that verdict and whether it shifts any votes, or enough to matter.

'Devoid of honesty'

The Obama team aren't trying to pretend their man had the best of it. They are claiming only a victory of substance over style. Their tactic is to dismiss the debate as so much theatre.

Campaign strategist David Axelrod said Mr Romney "may win the Oscar for his performance, but he won't win the presidency for his performance". He added the act "was devoid of honesty".

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But imagine you are undecided, you don't care much about ideology, but want some one who looks like a vigorous, motivated leader”

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He said the campaign would take a long hard look at last evening before the next debate in New York, in two weeks time, and make judgements about "where we draw our lines and how we use our time".

It sounds as it they are considering challenging Mr Romney a lot more.

The president himself told an audience in Denver: "When I got onto the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney."

"But it couldn't have been Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favour the wealthy. The fellow onstage last night said he didn't know anything about that."

The tactic is clearly to dismiss Mr Romney as an actor playing a part, in a briefly successful role, whose performance is a fiction.

Moving the undecideds

It might work. But the debates could work in persuading the very people Mr Romney needs to convert. The debates are, of course, performance, but body language, tone and style can matter.

The bottom line was that Mr Romney seemed not only more animated, but more motivated; Mr Obama seemed lacklustre, unexcited, even a bit bored.

Now, most people know how they are going to vote, and they aren't going to change because of those sort of vague judgements. But imagine you are undecided, you don't care much about ideology, but want someone who looks like a vigorous, motivated leader.

Mr Romney on the stump, in the adverts, hardly fits the bill. Last night's incarnation was much more convincing.

The next opinion polls will be important and will tell us whether debates can make a difference.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Romney won on the facts and issues which he has always been stronger on than the shallow Obama but he won on presentation too.
    The Dem spin is that romney lied (they are lying) or the alttitude in Denver

    Obama and his supporter in the media (and that includes you Mark) have never challenged him or his perfomance

  • Comment number 23.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    Think Tank read the post again and put things in context, I know you are liberal, but at least try and appear sensible.

    Obama overspoke by 7 minutes which out of the 45 mins allotted is a lot about 15% more than he should have.

    My point was that even the liberal rag admits that Obama spoke more, they just say 4 instead of the widely agreed 7

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.


    Oh Ciaran!

    The very page you link to says:

    ... Mitt Romney spoke for ... a full four minutes and 26 seconds less than Barack Obama.

    See? four minutes and 26 seconds! NOT 7 minutes!

    Now I'm ending early - just so I can't be accused of going over my allotment :-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    First, it is Obama who is dishonest. He has been running against a Romney straw man, created by his campaign team. The real Romney showed up last night. He forgot there was even a real Romney. Today, he's back attacking his straw man.

    Did Romney's win matter? Only to people who were honestly assessing the two and decided Romney was the better candidate. IOW, if he won some voters over.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    It only matters if Obama has another poor performance in a debate or commits a major gaffe -- remember Reagan's stumbling, meandering performance in the first debate with Mondale in '84? He followed it up by hitting the next one out of the park. All this does is raise the bar for Obama--he can afford to lose one debate, but not two in a row, not in an election this tight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    @#1: "I think Obama was smart. He remained cool..." — That wasn't the Obama I was listening to, who lost his audience every time he said:
    "The fact of the matter is... that... er..." — Obama looked as though he'd prepared for the wrong debate, and wasn't nimble enough to handle the new details expounded in the debate. Being bitter about Romney seizing the initiative won't help Obama's image.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Actually Lenn even the liberal rag agrees that Obama got more speaking time.

    Obama spoke for 7 minutes more than Romney.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    The debate simply proved Romney is a belligerent, selfish bully with total disregard for the "agreed" rules of the debate. I haven't seen the distribution of talking time between the Mitwitt and President Obama, but I believe Romney's perceived victory was more like a steam-rolling than a skilled win. I doubt our partner's around the world want to deal with his "my way or the highway" attitude.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Loving the response from the liberals. They are running scared now. Having Washington Post run fact checks is like having the prosecution as judge and jury. They are one of the most liberal rags going.

    This is the game changer that Romney needed, he was falling far behind but as many bipartisan sites have said the race is now open again. Romney is the comeback kid and Obama is overrated.

  • Comment number 14.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    If the President of country has to be elected on how the presentation goes rather than its content, then yes Romney would win hands down. But Romney has so much past baggage with him that his "stupendous" performance really does not matter much with regard to convincing the voters to vote for him. The undecided, if they choose the Prez based on theatrics, well we will have fun for next 4 years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Yes, it does matter.

    It gives would-be voters confidence that he has the presence, authority and statesmanship to be president which Obama failed to display, even after 4 years of experience.

    Romney just stepped right up to the challenge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    This debates outcome is overrated because as of now, fact-checkers have found 28 lies and counting for Gov. Romney. Taken with today's 3-day tracking poll having the President at 54% job approval, and campaign donations for the prez at $150 million haul in September, plus a good jobs report tomorrow, I'd say Myth Romney will need another etch-a-sketch moment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    It's only round one and everything reported so far is about body language than substance. Two more debates to go to say if it does matter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    I already know who I'm not voting for. Obama still has time to persuade me not to vote at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    Does it matter? No.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Romney told us:

    He'll repeal Dodd/Frank, but not really;
    He'll overturn Obamacare, but not really;
    He'll give us new $480bil. annual tax cuts, but not really;

    Should this move new votes into Romney's column? --not really.

    Obama took this 1980 campaign re-play as trickle-down fraud on its face, and reacted accordingly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I dunno - "soft on Wall Street, hard on Sesame Street" may be the 2012 meme that breaks Romney - he shoulda never picked on Big Bird

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Whether Romney "won" the debate - which is essentially sound bites and theatre is irrelevant to me. What their policies are is relevant.

    I will be voting for Obama becuase his workd view and domestic policies are less damaging to the middle class, poor and sick. That's the bottom line for me.


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