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 Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    How can anyone win a 'debate'? It's bad enough people claim to win an argument but realistically it's just a less fatal example of war: no winners, only participants and/or losers. Debates isn't about winning per se. True, Obama could have done better and missed many opportunities.
    I fear voters will again make a mistake. If so I hope for some kind of mercy (for the world). Global NOT US economy.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    41. Ciaran

    Top line is "Obama comes out swinging"

    Yes, today when he's in front of his peeps. The man was simply lost last night next to a real opponent.

    You can imagine how he did in his negotiations with Congress. Dems running right over him. Repubs walking out on him. A virtual free for all.

    US Treasury Sec'y Summers called it a "Home Alone" Admin. = no grown ups in charge.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Obama was hugely disappointing to his supporters. His campaign hound us constantly to canvass, make calls, donate money. And then the candidate sleepwalks through the debate, ignoring even easy opportunities to score points. The only reason to stick with Obama is that Romney is dishonest, secretive, elitist and his party dangerous (ref. Bush Cheney, Tea Party).

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    Mark: ”… you are undecided, you don't care much about ideology, but want someone who looks like a vigorous, motivated leader.”

    Therefore: conversion to Romney as president also means a swing to a more compelling ideology. I cannot imagine “a vigorous, motivated leader” without a sense of purpose based on his ideology.
    Finally a 'gentle' reminder that Obama lacks an ideological spine.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Butchering spending as MR brags he will only means vast numbers more unemployed & less discretionary spending to fuel the economy. When every penny counts, so does every service. No US household needs or wants cuts to the FDA, CDC, safety inspection budgets, FTC or ATF. The tone of the Big Bird attack betrays with what relish R-R intend to carve up the US landscape. Their campaign nosediving fast.

  • Comment number 59.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    America was built on the vision & achievement of Elected Leaders with the Media serving as the Eyes & Ears of the People for check & balance. The current campaign is diverting from the above with the Media lined up to partisan politics where failure & success are no more the yard stick for Public Office. America is changed with Debt swallowing GDP & nobody seems to care.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    2. Hoosier Radical

    If he thought Mr. Romney was lying, then why didn't he take that moment to set him straight?

    Because Romney would have challenged him on his accusations. Obama would have had to substantiate and defend them -- something he never has to do on the campaign trail, where he can charge whatever he likes.

    Obama does great as long as he remains unchallenged.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    Stressed voters will vote their pocket & Obama is better for the vast majority of US precisely because he does not pretend a piddling PBS cut will actually change anything in the deficit.As usual, R not getting how the non-affluent live,how much Moms depend on such seemingly trivial comforts as having Big Bird distract & teach your toddlers for a good half-hour daily.Rich just don't get it at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    Late Ann Richards - Texas Governor & former president Bill Clinton both said it best. Democrats are always cleaning up after the Bushes. ( Bush family). Republicans & Romney's supporters agreed that George W. after 8yrs in office, left president Obama a big mess. Their main argument is that Obama did not clean the mess fast enough or in 2yrs since they have opposed him in the last 2yrs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Mr Mardell, you must have meant to say that the Obama team is "claiming only a victory of style over substance" for Romney, rather than the converse.

    I think US politics will be better off if they ban political adverts, and have more of debates and discussions in which both the candidates have to participate, and are also quizzed by experts in various fields.

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    Too bad Obama didn’t join debate.

    Romney may be a genius. He gave Dems little fodder in run-up. Obama was caught off guard by Romney’s command, confidence & directness.

    Now Dems say a ‘different Romney showed up,’ & now even the racial excuse ‘black men can’t show anger.’ Not even the POTUS? Get real. It's called a debate.

    Oh, or was it Denver's ‘air pressure’ - ha ha.

  • Comment number 52.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    But Kingsley if he has written of 47% as you say, that still leaves 57% open to play for.

    He was saying Obama's base is 47%, he will never win them over, or get Obama below 47%, Romney has a base of about 43% leaving that crucial 10% left to play for of which Romney needs to win about 7.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Romney may have won the first debate, he did not sway most voters. Obama has proven & continue to prove he is fighting for all Americans. Romney who has written off 47% of Americans & proven he is for the super-rich, suddenly now care about the middle class?The voters already know which of the two candidates will fight for the middle class. And it is not Romney - Mr Flip-Flop.

  • Comment number 49.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    ref #25

    Tea Party are an inspiration to the world on true grassroots activtism

    They unlike another group committed no rapes or terrorism and also cleaned up after their rallies

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Was it not inevitable that Obama would be on the defensive given the U.S. economy? Romney doesn't deserve that much credit for putting Obama on the defensive given that situation. The question is: who's policies are more likely to improve life for most Americans? Romney may have been skilled at criticizing Obama, but he certainly wasn't great at providing a clear and convincing alternative.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    It's not direct at all, it's the 10th article down.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I cannot believe this! I JUST NOW received a 'robo-call' from the Romney campaign . . . They wanted my support and $'s! I may be a Republican, but I'm NOT a Romney Republican!


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