After two years of constant campaigning, hundreds of millions of dollars raised, countless thousands of hands shaken, and hundreds of speeches given, it comes down to this... three 90-minute debates. The first one is now in the can, so it must be asked: "How did the candidates do?" Here are five takeaways from the first presidential debate.
1. There were no knock-out blows delivered during this debate, but neither were there any gaffes. It was a solid and mistake-free performance by both Obama and Romney.
2. Both candidates showed themselves, as expected, to be skilled debaters with an impressive command of the issues. The debate was a non-stop recitation of facts and figures on the economy, healthcare, and deficit.
3. There were a number of significant differences between the candidates on the issues and the disagreements were heated. However, they never became personal. The disagreements remained focused on the issues. Romney, however, was the clear aggressor and he did have the president on the defensive much of the evening.
4. We are likely in the very same position we were in before the first debate. It is still a tight race with Obama likely retaining his slight edge in the polls in swing states. Nevertheless, Romney did himself a favor with a strong performance, which may help bring some of the undecided voters his way.
5. Both men will have the same charge going into the second debate that they had going into the first debate: Avoid a serious gaffe and appeal to the remaining undecided voters in the middle of the political spectrum. The only difference is that the onus is now on the president to come out stronger and more passionate in the second debate and Mitt Romney has less time remaining with which to make his case.
Robert Watson, Ph.D. has published 34 books on American politics and history and is Professor and Coordinator of American Studies at Lynn University, site of the third/final presidential debate of 2012.