Last night was a draw, plain and simple. Both candidates were quite good and neither made a glaring error. Obama needed to be more energetic and aggressive and appeal to his base. He did that. Romney needed to reassure swing voters that he had the temperament to be commander-in-chief. He did that. Nothing that happened last night changed the overall trajectory of this race. The Romney surge may have slowed -- but it continues -- and Team Obama likely wishes the election was held today. With exactly 14 days to go, Romney is poised to catch or overtake the president in key battleground states. If the president has an October surprise, he should use it now.
Yes, the president was more aggressive last night and scored more rhetorical punches. He may, in fact, have won the debate on points. Romney, however, just might have won the strategic campaign battle. Team Obama sought to paint Romney as reckless (the president even used this word) and bellicose. Romney came across as neither, either stylistically or from a content perspective. According to a CNN/ORC snap poll Obama won the debate 48 percent to 40 percent. He also had a 51 percent to 46 percent edge on leadership. But the two were tied on likeability. Two months ago, Obama led Romney on likeability by 20 points. To be even on likeability and nearly even on the leadership attribute is a huge boost for Romney. Finally, the CNN survey also asked whether voters thought Romney could handle being commander-in-chief. By a 22-point margin (60 percent to 38 percent) voters answered in the affirmative. Last night Team Romney wanted a debate performance that would help them win the election, but not necessarily win the actual debate. Time will tell if that strategy was correct.
For a sitting president to go on the attack as President Obama did last night suggests that this was a strategic calculation born of necessity. The president has been losing vote share for nearly 30 days. Our projected election trend line shows that there has been a substantial structural change to the race. Obama maxed out his vote share after a) the Democratic convention and b) Romney's 47 percent comment. Since the first debate, it has been all Romney. This line is so steep that we are hesitant to project it out because it would show a Romney landslide. While our sense is that the Romney ascent has begun to slow, it does show a 5-6 point shift that represents this election's clearest and most substantial vote share change.
The following is our take on the current political milieu:
We will be back next week. Thanks again to Pete Ventimiglia, Kelsey Cohen and Allison Quigley for their insights and contributions to the Election Monitor. Follow us on Twitter: @Steve_Lombardo.
Please note that the author was an advisor to the Romney for President campaign in 2008, but is not affiliated with any campaign in 2012.
Follow Steve Lombardo on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Steve_Lombardo