A political earthquake shook the presidential race Wednesday night when Mitt Romney out-debated President Obama and changed the narrative for the campaign's remaining four weeks.
The Mitt Romney who appeared on stage in Denver was a brand new, electrifying candidate -- presidential in his knowledge and oratory, capturing and controlling the pulse of the debate.
For the entire 90 minutes, Romney was gregarious, animated and tough, shedding the stiff corporate aura that has characterized his campaign style. Suddenly, he became a lot easier to warm up to, a viable alternative to the charismatic Obama.
Romney took every opportunity to draw sharp contrasts to his opponent's dogma, record and style, driving particularly hard against the president's failed economic policies as moderator Jim Lehrer, listlessly enforcing the debate's time limits, sat back with the rest of America and watched the candidates argue back and forth.
For those who have followed and supported the rise of Romney's candidacy, and for Republicans and conservatives in general, the debate created a groundswell of renewed optimism about their candidate. It awoke them from the apathetic slumber that came with negative poll numbers, campaign gaffes and the enduring dreariness that has characterized his campaigns since 2008.
Here was a reborn Romney, not the rich, unfeeling Bain executive who dismissed 47 percent of Americans as unreachable. Instead, he grabbed our attention by speaking forcefully against the failure of "trickle down government" in resolving our nation's ills.
Romney walked off the stage with new and critical momentum that, barring serious mishaps on the campaign trail or in the next two debates, should put him over the top in a close race to the White House.
The consensus from the mainstream media was that the president performed poorly. Almost uniformly, they criticized his look, his energy and, most importantly, his impact on the audience.
Even political pundit Bill Maher, who donated a cool million to the president's campaign, tweeted during the debate: "I can't believe I'm saying this, but Obama DOES look like he needs a teleprompter."
The magnetism that has characterized Obama as the candidate in 2008 and as president these last three years was missing Wednesday night. He appeared much older and more weary, lacking in spunk and genuineness.
The success of political campaigns often comes down to one or two defining moments that capture the essence of a candidate. The power of political debates is that they can provide those moments for those who come prepared.
After participating in 17 debates over the last two years, a seasoned Romney seized the moment and out-debated a lackluster and less-prepared Obama.
Looking back, historians will mark Wednesday's first debate as a pivot point in the 2012 presidential cycle, showing that Obama's recent strength in polling -- particularly in critical states like Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania -- reveals a candidate who peaked too early to win a second term.
Published in Florida Voices on October 5, 2012
Steven Kurlander blogs at Kurly's Kommentary, writes a weekly column for the Sun-Sentinel and the Florida Voices and is a New York Attorney and a communications strategist. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org