Governor Mitt Romney exceeded expectations in his debate performance at the University of Denver while President Barack Obama seemed to be trying to protect his lead.
Romney needed to have a strong performance and he did. According to a CBS News "snap poll", 46% of the 500 of uncommitted voters asked said that Romney won the debate, 22% said the president won, and 32% said it was a draw.
It was clear that Romney and his debate team planned to exploit the debate format, moderated by PBS's Jim Lehrer, with an aggressive performance. The challenger often has the advantage because the incumbent has to defend his record. But Romney got help from his opponent and the moderator because he was not challenged on his statements.
President Obama was not confrontational. He failed to raise Romney's embarrassing comments at a fundraiser that 47% are not personally responsible and depend on the federal government. The president failed to get Romney to explain what loopholes he would eliminate in his tax reform plan to pay for his 20% across the board tax cut, which would cost $5 trillion. That gave Romney the chance to say over and over his program would not cost $5 trillion.
Romney used, in Obama campaign manager David Plouffe's words, "theatrical aggression." Romney sounded confident as he gave the appearance of offering specifics without doing so. He criticized the president for "cutting" $716 billion from Medicare, the exact same amount Representative Paul Ryan, his running mate, and Republicans have voted to cut from the program. Romney did admit his would turn Medicare into a voucher program, but glossed over its impact.
Romney said he would repeal Obamacare, the president's signature health care legislation, but failed to clearly explain in detail how he would replace it. However, at one point he said his Massachusetts health care plan initiatives can apply nationally. That would seem to mean that his individual mandate, which is unpopular, would also apply. The president did not seize that opening.
For his part, President Obama did not mention his record of 30 consecutive months job growth, which has added more than 5 million private sector jobs to the U.S. economy. He also did not take credit for saving the U.S. auto industry, which saved a million U.S. jobs.
The president was consistent, persistent, but he played it safe. He was not forceful and he was not passionate. He did not make a clear case for his reelection.
The Romney campaign had leaked that their candidate would use zingers in the debate, but there were none. Instead, he attacked the incumbent's record and surprisingly even used human anecdotes. And in his strong summation he claimed he would turn the economy around and create 12 million new jobs in his first term. Never mind that economic forecasters predict that the U.S. economy is currently on track to add 12 million jobs.
Romney's performance was welcome relief to Republicans after several weeks of poor performances and embarrassing gaffs. He was convincing, and his debate appearance revved up his own base.
But did Romney convert any new voters? Will Americans support a candidate whose numbers do not add up?