Mitt Romney went into last night’s debate with one objective in mind and he nailed it. According to a post-debate CNN poll of registered voters, 60 percent of those who watched said they could see Romney as commander in chief. An almost identical 63 percent said the exact same thing about President Obama. That same CNN poll also found that while a plurality of respondents thought Obama won the debate 48 percent to 40 percent, slightly more people (25 percent) said the debate made them more likely to vote for Romney than said the same thing about Obama (24 percent).
That makes three debate performances in a row where Romney did what he had to do. In the first debate, Romney completely dismantled the cartoon villain image that Obama spent millions on negative advertising to create. In the second debate, Romney clearly established himself as the only candidate with a believable plan to fix the economy. Then last night, Romney comfortably established himself as a confident and competent commander in chief — a reasonable, viable alternative to Obama.
Obama, meanwhile, has never been able to fully recover from his debacle in Denver. Bored and distracted during the first debate, Obama over-compensated in the next two, attacking Romney at every turn. “On the question of likeability, the two candidates are essentially tied on a trait that has generally been an advantage for Obama,” CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said. “That’s probably due to the fact that two-thirds of debate watchers felt that Obama spent more time than Mitt Romney on the attack.”
This year’s presidential debates fundamentally changed the dynamics of the race. Going in, Obama had a commanding lead and the liberal media was salivating over stories about Republicans ditching Romney and shifting resources to House and Senate seats. Four debates later, Romney is by no means the clear favorite, but he is ahead or closing the gap in most polls and clearly has the momentum.
Washington Examiner Reax
Michael Barone: “The polling data suggests that Romney is now ahead and is likely to be elected. I think we saw two candidates who were thinking not only about the campaign but also about the transition period which will occur if Romney is elected and Obama is denied a second term.”
Phil Klein: “From the early going of tonight’s foreign policy debate, it was clear that Romney was aiming to run out the clock. He wanted to demonstrate a basic fluency on foreign policy so he could pass the commander-in-chief test, without looking like somebody who was itching to start more wars.”
The Weekly Standard‘s William Kristol: “Only two other challengers have done as well debating foreign policy with an incumbent president—Ronald Reagan against Jimmy Carter in 1980 and, to a lesser degree, Bill Clinton against George H.W. Bush in 1992. Reagan and Clinton won.”
National Review’s Rich Lowry: “I think Romney executed what must have been his strategy nearly flawlessly: reassure people that he’s not a bomb-thrower; project strength but not bellicosity; go out of his way to say how many Obama policies he agrees with to create a sense of his reasonableness; focus on the big picture of a world that seems out of control; get it back to the economy as much as possible; and communicate a real passion for the future.”
National Affairs’ Yuval Levin: “It is downright peculiar for the sitting president to say again and again that we need nation-building at home after years of neglect. It is downright peculiar for anyone running in this economy to keep coming back to the need to build roads and bridges.”
Talking Points Memo‘s Josh Marshall: “Here’s my quick reaction. The first half hour was a draw, though President Obama scored by default when Romney either didn’t or couldn’t attack on Libya. After that though Romney began to falter as Obama became more direct, organized and declarative.”
Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum: “For my money, Obama’s best moment came after Romney hauled out his “apology tour” trope. The transcript doesn’t do it justice. On paper it sounds good, but his delivery made it great. He sounded just a smidge outraged by the whole thing, which was exactly the right tone.”
Andrew Sullivan: “For Romney, he made no massive mistakes. No Gerald Ford moments. And since the momentum of this race is now his, if now faltering a little, a defeat on points on foreign policy will be an acceptable result.”
Polls: The Washington Post/ABC News daily tracking poll debuted with Obama over Romney by 1, 49 percent to 48 percent. But a new Monmouth University poll not only found Romney up 48 percent to 45 percent over Obama among all likely voters, and up 44 percent to 41 percent among those who have already voted.
In Other News
The New York Times, Across Corn Belt, Farmland Prices Keep Soaring: Across the nation’s Corn Belt, even as the worst drought in more than 50 years has destroyed what was expected to be a record corn crop and reduced yields to their lowest level in 17 years, farmland prices have continued to rise.
The Wall Street Journal, Low Rates Pummel Banks: Super-low U.S. interest rates are squeezing bank profits, complicating the industry’s recovery from the financial crisis.
The Washington Post, Lebanese army responds to gun battles between Sunnis, Shiites in Beirut: The Lebanese army hit the streets of Beirut on Monday, a show of force aimed at stopping sectarian attacks and lawlessness in the city following the assassination of top intelligence chief Wissam al-Hassan on Friday.