Normally I like to use Mark Halperin’s write-up because I really respect his work and appreciate the way he smartly puts things on paper even when it is something I don’t want to hear. His grades for the debate were B- for Obama and C for Romney. I can live with those grades but I thought his write-up was pretty weak. He makes a couple good points as you’d expect but his wording and phrasing was overwhelming negative towards Romney. If you read only the reviews and not he grades you would think he gave Obama a B and Romney a D-. In light of the fact that his B- grade is the exact same grade he game Obama after the disastrous Denver Debate, I have to grudgingly admit this was a poor effort on his part — especially the near hyperbolic words and phrases he uses to describe troubles for Mitt Romney.
One of the better discussions of the debate in my opinion was by Ari Fleisher on CNN who talked about the debate in baseball terms with each debate accounting for 3 innings of a 9 inning game. The blowout first debate for Romney was like a team scoring 5 runs in the first three innings. I agree wholeheartedly with that assessment which is backed up by every poll, in enthusiastic fundraising numbers as well as through the post-debate despondency on the Left. So after debate 1 we are looking at a score of Romney 5 Obama 0.
For the second debate with most people scoring it a draw Fleischer said that would be a 0 to 0 outcome over those three innings. He then conceded you might give Obama 1 run to Romney’s 0 based on some of the snap polls. I would go with the 2nd scoring and grant Obama a run for representing his case strongly as his base would see it — something he did not do in Denver. At the same time Romney did a good job in areas like forcefully distinguishing his prospective Administration from the Bush years, consistently articulating his focus on job creation as well as remaining appropriately critical of why we should move on from Obama.
Romney didn’t score though because of his fumbling the Libya opportunity. If he was going to land a knockout blow, that was his opening and it was right there for the taking. We can criticize Candy Crowley for inappropriately interjecting herself there but Romney was already fumbling before she made even more of a mess in that situation. The facts and severity of the situation in Libya will ultimately overwhelm any debate fallout from the missed opportunity but if Romney were going to add to his momentum and put some runs on this board, this was his moment and he missed it. It doesn’t set him back but it does keep him from extending the lead.
So I’ll score the second debate Romney 0 Obama 1. If someone wants to make the argument that Obama won this debate to balance out Romney winning the first debate, that may be technically accurate but the two debates were materially different in terms of voter impact. In our baseball analogy, after 6 innings, the score is Romney 5 Obama 1. Romney still has momentum and growing voter support even if he didn’t augment it in this debate. You saw this is those same post-debate snap polls where voters overwhelming supported Mitt Romney on issues of the economy, jobs and the deficit. This is materially important because every Battleground State or National poll says those issues are paramount to a super majorities of voters and Mitt Romney continues to be the run away leader on those issues. Barack Obama’s inability to move those numbers are why, despite his improved performance, he most likely did not persuade the voters he needs to get over 50% in the polls or dissuade the Romney voters he needs to stay home.
Both candidates came out combative and ready for the fight. The problem for Barack Obama is the public is ready to replace him as President evidenced by the stubborn consistency of his polling always around 47% support (that is below the necessary 50% threshold). The public saw a Mitt Romney in the first debate who they deemed plausible as President and nothing in this debate did anything to disabuse them of that notion.