The US voter, and the world as a whole, got a chance to see the two candidates for the world’s most powerful job share a podium, exchange words and debate their worldviews for the first time on October 3. The substance of their debate was mind-numbingly local: domestic healthcare reforms, tax slabs and the fate of small and medium businesses. However, what has become clear after the debate is that a genuine competition exists for the White House. The assumption of many was that Barack Obama was unassailable and Mitt Romney unelectable. This is evidently no longer the case. That a race is on is evident on several levels. First, the Republican candidate was unanimously hailed as the winner of the debate. More importantly, he was able to show himself to be chief executive material. Opinion polls had, before the debate, overwhelmingly predicted that the silver-tongued Obama would best his opponent. Mr Romney — weighed down by his investment banking background, hidden tax records, curious sectarian background — has done much to correct the sense that he does not really deserve to be in the Oval Office.
Second, the two candidates outlined a number of economic policy differences. This helped define the ideological choice that lies before the US voter. The Republican made it clear he saw cutting back on government spending as the core means to rein in the US’ ballooning public debt. The Democrat saw this as being about raising taxes. Mr Romney opposed central government-mandated healthcare in favour of a local arrangement. The list goes on. This was particularly important to Mr Romney whose liberal record as a state governor made many in his party doubt his conservative credentials. Polls show that Democrats are far more enthused about Mr Obama than Republicans are about their man. Third, though foreign policy will only be debated in the fourth week of October, the debate showed up obvious policy implications for the rest of the world. If the US continues to use monetary expansion, as Mr Obama is doing, to work its way out of the financial crisis, the resulting inflationary pressure will be felt by all nations. Mr Romney advocates an austerity programme closer to what is being done in the Eurozone. This will lead to a drop in global demand that will shrink growth prospects for all countries. Mr Obama also spoke of tax incentives designed to stop outsourcing — an obvious concern for India. And Mr Romney implicitly warned of the strategic problems the US will face from depending on China to finance its deficit.
Mr Obama continues to be the frontrunner, not least beca-use of the electoral college that rewards candidates whose support is geographically spread out. But there is a sense the US presidential race is now a matter of choice and not predestination — and that is always good for a polity.