Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The 2nd Presidential Debate: BAM! POW! SOCKO!

Last night we saw the 2nd Presidential Debate: it was a rumble. When the Times leaked the debate rules ahead of schedule I was ready to pounce: Gawker had declared both candidates extreme cowards who were afraid of anything spontaneous happening. I agreed (the rules had no follow-ups, for example--and no questions from the moderator). What we got, though was a much more free-wheeling, at times almost physical confrontation.

What Do The Polls Say?
We have a set of "snap polls" that give us some insight into who won. I like 538's rundown:
  • CBS Poll: Obama Won 37-30%
  • CNN Poll: Obama 46-39% Although the internals show a lot of people felt Romney was stronger on specifics.
  • Google Consumer Surveys gives Obama 48-31.
  • Public Policy Polling gives it 48-44 for Obama. Independent voters gave a 58-36 edge.
  • A California poll gave it to Obama by a large margin but Independents in the group showed a tie.
Betting markets look like +3% margin for Obama on chance to win in November and Politic IT has a fascinating breakdown of the online environment:
  • Obama won (+0.42 IT Score vs -1.9 in the first debate). Romney lost (-0.33 IT score vs. +0.2 in the first debate).
  • 68% more tweets said Obama Won and the most active portion was during the immigration question.
Fox News apparently called it a Tie and NewsMax says "A Tie Goes to the President." Conservative bloggers complained that:
  • The moderator, Candy Crowley was clearly partisan. Commentators also note: fat.
  • Obama spoke for 4 more minutes than Romney--a plus of 10% although if split evenly it would've been 2 more minutes for Romney than he got.
  • That the questions were clearly plants or, at least, pretty biased.
What Happened?
There were a few very tense exchanges--the most notable around Libya where Romney accused the president of NOT calling the attacks that killed our ambassador terrorism on the day after and got "fact checked" by Crowley that he "did too." The audience applauded (against the rules) and then Obama lectured Romney on being presidential. 

The truth is a little more muddy than that. Obama did use the words 'terrorist attack' but did not call the attack terrorism directly. The White House also spun (or at least seemed to spin) the story that the attacks were spontaneous (who could guess that an attack might happen on September 11!?) and were related to the offensive anti-Muslim video.

On the other hand, Romney stuck on the use of the word 'terrorist' and, hey, it was in the speech. The moderator probably should not have said anything--but, regardless, it was not a well chosen hill for Romney to die on.

He also somewhat flubbed his initial attack on Libya--for the A-1-Best attack line Republicans have against Obama right now he was measured, careful, inclusive--but overly so--and he hinged everything on the Rose Garden speech. When that fell apart into "Gee, maybe I should google the transcripts" in a bunch of viewer's minds it was possibly a disaster. Don't take my word for it, ask Power Line.

But anyway ...

What Do I Think?
Here is what I think happened to Romney:
  1. The debate environment isn't Fox News. Conservatives cheered him introducing the Fast and Furious investigation into a gun-control question but for everyone else (a) he kinda had to explain what it was--no easy feat and (b) they were probably going "Huh? How does some ATF thing relate to that Joker-guy in Colorado!?" It didn't. People who watch Fox knew exactly what he was doing--but he wasn't on Fox--or at least not just on Fox. The same goes for Libya: conservatives were primed for the attack--for everyone else it probably looked (again) like he was jumping on Obama when Obama was talking about greeting coffins. Romney's debate may have been in a bit of a bubble there.
  2. Obama threw the kitchen sink at him. Obama had a flurry of attacks and integrated them well into his talking points--it paid off: he came out hard but not frothing. He looked reasonably presidential while basically calling Romney a liar several times. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, no unbiased observer, called it the best debate of Obama's career and I think she might, despite the bias, be right. Those four days of cramming paid off. Did they ... sneak in a teleprompter?
  3. The Moderator happened to Romney. I don't know how Candy Crowley votes--but if I were a betting man I'd put my money on D. Was she partisan? Hmm ... it's impossible to see through our own blinders but I'll say this: both candidates tried to overrun her. Obama managed it once--Romney managed it once--but whether by choice or design she was shutting down Romney at crucial points moreso, I thought, than Obama. No moderator will be loved by both sides so maybe it is a wash--or maybe we just need machines turning the mikes off instead of moderators (but imagine how that would go over)--so we're stuck with it--but Romney battling with the moderator was not his finest moment.
The truth will be in the next sweep of polling. If Obama holds Ohio--now just barely favored, he holds (more or less) the election. If he loses Ohio (or PA, for example) it's probably Romney's game. My feeling is that Obama will get a 1pt bounce in the polls which will carry him through to the next debate wherein he may come out with a slight advantage going into the November election.

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