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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US Presidential Election 2012


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  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Firstly it is good I am able to comment on a BBC's correspondent's views. I hope the recent no comment pieces is not the start of a trend.
    Why was Obama so poorly prepared. He seemed surprised by some of the remarks of Mitt Rodney (you plonker). Arguments that the latter made were not answered fully. There did not seem to be any attempt to put the Republican on the defensive. BO must do better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    Perhaps Obama's last four years in Washington facing an uncharacteristically hostile House who'se sole motivation has been to make him a 'one-term' president has taken a toll on his motivation. Likewise, Mitt, as an active lay preacher in his Mormon church, knows how to stand at the pulpit and present utmost conviction even when defending utter fiction. One hopes that in the end, 'integrity' wins.

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    138.Ethan Farber

    Don't show your ignorance, Bain is not a political entity it is there to make money and hence create wealth, wealth is what generates jobs. Bain are only successful because they are good at what they do and keep on making money. How can you question someone who has actually been out there and done it rather than a career politician who has no other experience to draw from.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Romney is prime example of what is so wrong with the world today, why we are in such a financial mess globally. It's because people like him in positions of influence (former CEO) do not hesitate for a moment when it comes to telling lies and flip-flopping on issues just to suit the occassion or to get a bonus etc. He is an opportunist through and through whether it is downsizing jobs etc. Shame!

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    Whilst there's no denying that these debates can influence elections to an extent, the assumptions made that they are the absolute key is wrong - check out the polls before & after the historic debates and you rarely see result changing swings.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    This a was a debate between an international business man and governor of a state with a very successful track record and a provincial lawyer who put Obama on the spot about his four-year record which does not stand up it is as simple as that ,the man will not get a second term and any one hoping Obama continues with the fiscal cliff looming and the debt ceiling really is out of touch !

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    "You know nothing about Bain or the great work thatRomney did there."

    And you do?

    So I'm guessing it spite of Bain and its ilk's selfless efforts that our economy is now all but gone? And the rich have somehow wound up owning almost everything. Imagine that. Clearly, the government MADE the rich even RICHER - against their will!

    Can anyone believe these claims are but paid activist?

  • rate this

    Comment number 137.

    I find this totally bewildering. The democrats who took all they could in the last presidential race by way of publicity, Obama merely had to grunt for swathes of press and TV reporters to run stories of the new Messiah, are now calling foul and saying that the press are against their man. Realisation has set in that the man who could change it, hasn't. The fact is that he has not delivered....

  • rate this

    Comment number 136.

    ref #134

    You know nothing about Bain or the great work thatRomney did there.

    Bain took companies that were going to fail and in most cases turned them around and yes made a profit for Bain.

    Compare that to Obama work as a community organizer extorting money from companies

  • rate this

    Comment number 135.

    ref #52

    Tea Party had a diverse group including all ethnicities represented.

    OWS on the othe hand was funded by left wing groups of george Soros and did commit crimes

    You seem to have a problem with conservative being along to speak

  • rate this

    Comment number 134.

    Romney isn't a businessman, he's a corporate raider. At best the skills you're referring to are the skills of a con artist.

    It was, after all, American business that got us into this mess. Across the ocean, the EU has problems of its own but nothing at all to compare to the mass desperation that is taking hold in America.

    EU has more govt & laws on business. And common sense.
    Greed is NOT good

  • rate this

    Comment number 133.

    "Well, you can count Obama out on that one. We know he has not worked with Congress,.."

    To me it looks the other way round - during the last 2 years Congress did not cooperate with the POTUS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 132.

    Like the '47%' comment, the left wing media went overboard. As they would in the UK on the privatization of the NHS e.g. The debate can never start from a rational point of view saying ok are there some benefits to healthcare reform? It always starts from a left wing perspective of making cuts, so debate is drowned by the left. But when people actually get to hear what Romney was saying, he won...

  • rate this

    Comment number 131.

    I should be concerned if I was advising Obama. Romney won not because of "zingers" but because he showed that skills as a businessman can be transferred to politics. The President's only hope in the next debate is to attack. In so doing he will stop looking Presidential. Governor Romney has shown himself to be a compelling spokeman for conservativism. Adlai Stevenson got to run twice..

  • rate this

    Comment number 130.

    It's interesting I was voted down for pointing out what every European knows, which is that American media is anything but left-wing.

    Why do you Europeans think that is?

  • rate this

    Comment number 129.

    Jay you should be working for MSNBC with our distrotion of the facts.

    Obama has made no attempt to work with republicans. You have to sit in the back ring a bell.

    Obama has been given a free ride from the media, his incomptence is evident if you have a brain.

    The liberal media is trying to spin this into Romney lied, Obama was presidential or was affected by the altitude

  • rate this

    Comment number 128.

    Most Americans were simply turned off by the debate. Americans are jaded - and getting angry.

    That there are activists, here on the BBC, claiming what many Americans are duped into believing, that American media is left-leaning, is a sad commentary on the state of American politics.

    It just goes to show how much Big Money has warped not only the political dialogue but what passes for reality.

  • rate this

    Comment number 127.

    It matters because in the largely liberal left wing media Romney doesn’t get a fair hearing. Let’s take another UK e.g. The UK cannot go on paying for free healthcare, for everyone, forever. But could you just imagine if any political party in the UK ever had privatization of any part of the NHS as its policy? The howling from the BBC and the left wing media? They would be absolutely shredded.

  • rate this

    Comment number 126.

    The president could have simply said about Mr. Romney that "he was for the individual mandate, before he was against it". Why didn't he attack his opponent on this and on other matters for which he has been pouncing him with ads for months now? Please, Mr. President, no more ads. Just say what you really think about Mr. Romney in his face.

  • rate this

    Comment number 125.

    If Obama asks Romney where he will find the money for his plans he better be able to say where he will find the money for his .


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