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Terry Connelly Headshot

Notes on the Campaign After the First Debate

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In the words of the great political philosopher (and successful basketball coach), Pat Riley, "The playoffs don't really start until the home team loses." An incumbent president is the "home team," and Obama "lost" the first debate. So did Reagan and George W. Bush, by the way, and they both remained incumbents when the votes were counted. So now we have the end of the "phony" campaign and the start of the real campaign.

The left-wing of the commentariat is upset with Obama for not "taking it to Romney" in the first debate -- but independents didn't want a nasty battle in the first debate, and Obama wanted to match Romney's expected effort to "move to the center" (i.e. "I don't really have a $5 trillion tax cut for the rich")... the ire of the left may well help with the remaining undecided voters.

With Romney's campaign looking stronger, there will be less temptation on the part of his campaign to play the "Jeremiah Wright" card now that McCain eschewed in 2008 (that was just starting to reappear on Fox News). This new reluctance will help Obama.

The right-wing of the media will be a little off-stride for a while because they had forecast that Obama would automatically be declared the first debate "winner" by the mainstream media -- yet those folks on CNN and CNBC were very caustic on Obama's performance and clearly declared Romney the winner (They obviously never covered a Mohammed Ali fight and are unfamiliar with his "rope-a -dope' tactic in the early rounds).

Expectations for Biden in his debate with Ryan on October 11 will be way lower than for Romney in his first, and he will probably likewise exceed them, and take the shots at Romney (through Ryan) that Obama judiciously avoided, even at the cost of losing the debate.

Obama will be under pressure to "produce" in the second debate -- but the town hall format for this event is more familiar turf to him, while Romney largely avoided that format in his primary campaign. Obama will probably play better from behind.

This campaign ultimately will come down to competing "get out the vote" operations in about eight states, which have already started. It could go either way; with enormous consequences for U.S. govern policy and institutions (especially the Supreme Court, which was never even mentioned in the format for the first debate on domestic issues). It could go either way -- and there are about eight different ways where the Electoral College vote could end in a tie. The Romney "comeback" will put this scenario back on the front burner in due course.

A tie would seem to go to Romney, as the decision would shift to the newly elected House of Representatives, with each state delegation having one vote -- Republicans are expected to control a clear majority of state delegations.

BUT technically, Electoral College electors are constitutionally free to vote for whomever they choose individually -- if Obama won the popular vote by a big margin; in that event, there could be pressure to get just one elector to not follow his or her state's vote outcome and support the popular vote winner. But this would be the mother of all "hung" elections, and there would also be tremendous pressure on Obama (especially from the stock market) to "go out a hero" by giving up this possibility and concede to spare the country a constitutional crisis, especially in the context of a lame-duck session of Congress trying to deal with the "fiscal cliff."

If you think this possible outcome is far-fetched, or even just a little fetched, remember another famous Irishman's law -- in this case, not Riley's but Murphy's: "What can go wrong, does!"