There is little dispute that Republican Mitt Romney “won” his first presidential debate with President Barack Obama Wednesday night in Denver. He was animated while Obama appeared flat. He was aggressive while Obama often seemed hesitant. He was cogent while the president all too often fumbled for words.
It was a performance that is sure to energize the Republican base, and may make it more difficult for the Democrats to activate theirs. Romney’s command of the stage was confirmed by polls that immediately followed, including one by CNN that showed the former Massachusetts governor judged the winner by two-thirds of those surveyed.
But was Romney too dominant in a way that might prove off-putting to the coveted cadre of undecided voters who have yet to settle on their presidential choice?
His manner was not as controversial as Democrat Al Gore’s in his 2000 presidential debates with Republican George W. Bush. During their first confrontation, Gore sighed audibly during many of Bush’s answers in a manner that was clearly dismissive. And during the subsequent “town hall” debate, Gore at one point got up and moved menacingly close to his Republican rival, as if he wanted to stare him down at the least if not physically pummel him. In the end, Gore’s advantages on content were muted by his strange behavior.
In this year’s first presidential debate, Obama’s performance was clearly subpar. And the split-screen technique often employed by the television producers did him no favors. There were often simultaneous pictures of Romney and Obama, with the latter’s head cast down in a manner that reminded one of a recalcitrant student being lectured by an unforgiving teacher.
But Romney had such free rein during the debate, it would not be surprising if he was seen by more than a few swing voters as too dominant - particularly in his forceful efforts to override the time constraints of moderator Jim Lehrer; or too glib in stating his case in easily flowing prose. In short, it was possible to see Romney as the well-prepared and earnest salesman that he is; but maybe a little too earnest and fast-taking in his effort to make the sale.
Three more debates remain to be held – a vice presidential faceoff in Danville, Ky., on Oct.11 between the incumbent Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan; and two more presidential debates in Hempstead, N.Y. on Oct. 16 and in Boca Raton, Fla., on Oct. 22.
But we won’t have to wait that long to see if the basic pro-Obama nature of this campaign was changed by Romney’s dominant debate performance Oct. 3. Polls should show us that by this weekend.