Obama Tries to Regroup
Mitt Romney came through when he had to. Gone was the Republican presidential candidate who got to the right of all his rivals through first quarter of 2012. Instead, we got the guy who resembled that moderate gubernatorial candidate from Massachusetts back in 2002, the Republican who was able to win in a liberal state and cut deals with a Democratic legislature.
There is no way around this for Obama supporters. Mr. Romney gave a dominating performance in the Denver debate that managed to put President Obama’s economic record front and center as the key issue in the campaign. Mr. Romney was aggressive and took his case directly to the people and, at times, the president during the debate. But he never crossed the line into personal attacks that might have sparked sympathy for Mr. Obama.
As for the president, Democrats were wondering who actually showed up at the debate and will the same guy show up on October 16th when the next debate is held at Hofstra University in New York. It seemed as though the president was overly coached not to get negative with Mr. Romney — so much so that he looked like a listless shell of his former self and made no real attempt to push back.
I would expect a different Barack Obama in the second debate. I know Democrats are going to demand that. The Obama strategy will be to blunt the Romney momentum with a stronger performance in the second debate, aiming at least for a tie so that the Romney folks can’t claim two straight victories.
Biden versus Ryan
The Obama campaign might be willing to unleash Vice President Joe Biden when he debates Republican vice presidential Paul Ryan on Thursday. Of course, this carries a number of risks because no one, including the president, is ever sure what exactly is going to come out of Mr. Biden’s mouth at any given time. But in the past Joe Biden has proven to be an effective debater, especially when you get into class conflicts, protecting the elderly from cuts in Medicare and fighting for the middle class.
Expect all of that to be on display in the vice presidential debate and expect Congressman Ryan to have to defend the budget plans he put forward as the Republican Chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Even so, there is little evidence that vice presidential debates have much bearing on the outcome of presidential elections, so the focus will quickly shift back to the showdowns between President Obama and Mr. Romney. The last of the three presidential debates on October 22nd will focus on foreign policy, one area where President Obama has maintained an edge in the polls.
But recent developments in the Middle East, especially persistent questions about how the administration handled the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American died. This is sure to come up in that debate and may give Mr. Romney an opening for criticism.
Obama’s Jobs Boost
But in the end, foreign policy probably will not decide this election. The state of the economy will. And to that point the latest jobs report dropping the U.S. unemployment rate to 7.8 percent, down from 8.1 percent, is welcome news for the president.
It’s the lowest the jobless rate has been since Mr. Obama took over in January of 2009 and may help strengthen his argument that things are slowly getting better just in time for re-election. In 1984, President Ronald Reagan was easily able to win a second term with an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent, mainly because the economy and job growth numbers were moving in the right direction in the months before Election Day. Although in a weaker position, Mr. Obama will now try to make the same argument to that dwindling group of undecided voters still trying to make up their minds in the final weeks.
At the very least, Democrats hope the jobs report will take a little of the sting out of Mr. Obama’s debate collapse. Republicans believe one of the most important effects of the strong Romney performance in the debate was that it would encourage anti-Obama voters to stay in the game in the final weeks, which could also help Republicans in their Senate and House races. Before the debate, the president was pulling away in several key states and a narrative was building in some quarters that the race was close to being over. The debate has helped the Romney campaign reverse that thought pattern, at least for now, and given them a chance to get back in the game.
Watch the Polls
Most analysts expect the race to tighten a bit in the aftermath of the debate. It was already pretty close in the national polls — on average a three to four point lead for the president. But the thing to watch for is poll movement in the 10 or so battleground states where both campaigns are expending huge amounts of money and time to swing these states one way or the other. If Mr. Romney starts to cut the gap in places like Ohio, Wisconsin and Florida, it could have a cascading effect that could tighten the national map considerably.
President Obama has had a clear advantage in the Electoral College for some time now. He simply has more paths to the get to the magic number of 270 electoral votes than Mr. Romney.
Ohio Ground Zero
Nowhere is the president’s advantage more crucial than in the state of Ohio. No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. In 2004, Democrat John Kerry lost the election because President George W. Bush was able to narrowly carry the state and win a second term.
This year the Obama campaign has built a firewall in Ohio and the lead in recent weeks has moved from narrow to solid, though it still could change. If the Romney campaign can’t find a way to get back in the game in Ohio, that means trying to cobble together an Electoral College majority with uphill victories in several other swing states including Florida, Virginia and Colorado.
It’s not impossible, but it would mean Romney comebacks in several places where he has been down. For the moment, Ohio is hanging out there as big checkmate in favor of the Obama campaign, and the Romney camp will be eagerly watching to see if the strong debate performance will move any numbers there or in some of the other key swing states as well.