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Change of tide for Romney

world Updated: Oct 05, 2012 01:28 IST
Yashwant Raj

Mitt Romney needed a good debate to turn around his campaign. And he got it. President Barack Obama needed to make no mistakes. He didn’t, but he gave away the debate.

Obama seemed surly, looked down when Romney spoke, and took notes. He attacked, but not enough. And when attacked, which was expected, he didn’t defend himself well.

Romney, on the other hand, was ready and eager. He attacked well, and counter-attacked better. And looked at Obama with that indulgent expression he turns on for debates.

They debated, according to a pre-arranged format, essentially about domestic issues — the economy, taxation, healthcare reforms and governance. And along predictable lines.

Both campaigns tried to claim victory, but Romney clearly carried the night, which was apparent even to Democrats who fumed the president came up short.

Romney’s victory was confirmed by an instant poll, in which 46% of undecided voters gave him the debate, while 22% gave it to the president and 32% said it was a tie.

“Romney’s performance was likely strong enough to silence the critics of his campaign, those from within his own party,” Mitchell S McKinney, an expert of presidential debates, told HT. “And (strong enough to) re-energise his supporters.”

The Republican challenger had gone into the debate the complete underdog — his poll numbers stuck several notches below Obama’s, trailing in all battleground states.

And his campaign was in trouble, buffeted by attacks from even his own party. He hadn’t helped himself much by committing a series of gaffes — such as the 47% remark. The debate was said to be his last chance.

Obama and Romney have two more debates to go — October 16 and 22. But the next one is for their running mates Joe Biden and Paul Ryan, on October 11.

Can Biden make up for his boss’s poor showing? There is precedence. President George W Bush was in pretty much the same situation in 2004, mauled by challenger John Kerry. Bush’s running mate Dick Cheney chewed up his rival John Edwards, wresting back the advantage. They went on to win themselves a second term.

Though a seasoned campaigner and debater, Biden is given to gaffes, and could make things worse. Also, Ryan is forceful and aggressive, no pushover.

Democrats need help, that’s for sure. Many even agreed with a frequent Republican barb that Obama’s public speaking is so challenged, he can’t do without a teleprompter. And he wasn’t using one Thursday night.

Obama’s campaign pushed back on the criticism, claiming Romney hid more than he revealed of his plans, and opened himself to further attacks.

“Governor Romney gave a very vigorous performance, one that was devoid of honesty,” said David Axelrod, Obama campaign adviser, in a conference call Thursday morning.

Republicans, in the meantime, have gone ballistic. They finally got the Romney they had been imploring him to be. New Jersey governor Chris Christie called the debate a “knockout”.