Romney on a roll after first TV debate

Romney forced US President Barack Obama repeatedly on to the defensive.

Although Romney is still trailing badly in the polls, especially in the crucial swing states, his strong showing lifted conservative morale with just more than four weeks left to turn the campaign around.

The two sparred mainly over the economy, in particular tax, jobs and healthcare during a statistics- and policy-laden 90-minute debate on Wednesday night that was seen by an estimated 50-million viewers.

Romney was forceful, accusing Obama of repeatedly portraying his policies as inaccurate. Obama, looking tired and at times irritated, remained largely calm.

Romney's campaign team hailed it as a victory. Eric Fehrnstrom, his campaign spokesman, said: "Governor Romney clearly won. If this was a boxing match the referee would have stopped it."

David Plouffe, one of the architects of Obama's victory in 2008 and a senior member of his campaign this year, was subdued. "We are going to come out of this debate okay," he said, adding that the Romney team had needed a game-changer and this was not one.

Stephanie Cutter, a member of Obama's campaign team, insisted the president had won the debate on substance, but admitted Romney had won for style and preparation.

A CNN flash poll of registered voters had 67% saying Romney had won it, whereas just 25% gave it to Obama.

One of Bill Clinton's best-known strategists, James Carville, told CNN he had been left with "one overwhelming impression … It looked like Romney wanted to be there and President Obama didn't want to be there … It gave you the impression that this whole thing was a lot of trouble."

Romney needed a good night after being confronted with setback after setback over the past two months that has left him trailing Obama in the polls. Although Obama remains the favourite to secure re-election on November 6, Romney may at least have stopped his campaign slump.

The first of the clashes came over the economy, when Obama asked how Romney was simultaneously going to cut the country's burgeoning deficit while cutting $5-trillion in taxes for the wealthy, extending Bush-era tax cuts and raising military spending.

Romney totally denied it. In the tone he maintained for most of the night, he said: "I'm not in favour of a $5-trillion tax cut. That's not my plan … So you may keep referring to it as a $5-trillion tax cut, but that's not my plan."

Powerful attack
At times, Romney patronised the president, saying that he did not understand business or accountancy. "Mr President, you're entitled to your own airplane and your own house, but not your own facts," he said at one point.

In another powerful attack, which  is at the core of the Romney message, he listed unkept promises and told Obama: "You've been president for four years."

The president, by contrast, was hesitant in his responses. One of the biggest surprises was that he failed to deliver any of the attacks that have been successful on the campaign trail and have been used to devastating effect in television ads in swing states. There was, for instance, no mention of Romney's disparaging remarks about the 47% of the population being freeloaders.

The main image of the night will be of Romney, eyes alight, gesticulating from the podium with a rarely  seen passion while Obama delivered most of his answers with his head down.

It was not a disastrous night for Obama. That calm, measured approach is part of the reason why many Democrats like him and it may also appeal to independents.

Most televised debates have little impact on the eventual outcome, but this one will at least change the growing perception of Romney as a loser, even if only temporarily. – ©  Guardian News & Media 2012

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Ewen Macaskill
Guest Author

Related stories

Why would anyone vote for Trump?

COMMENT: For this gay, white soldier there simply isn’t a good enough challenger to knock him off his perch

The African Union’s (un)official statement on the US elections

The United States has never been shy to pass judgment on African elections. What does it look like when Africa passes judgment on America’s chaotic vote?

The journalist who was shot in cold blood

Ahmed Divela was one of Ghana’s most fearless investigative journalists. This edited excerpt about his killing is from Faces of Assassination

We cannot reform ourselves out of the times we are in

To end racism, we will have to change the structures from which it draws its mandate, and get rid of liberal and right-wing politicians who give it oxygen while we are being asphyxiated

After disastrous Zuma years, Ramaphosa must provide foreign policy clarity

For a country that is guided by ubuntu, South Africa has a record of embarrassing international blunders

The narratives that define the coronavirus pandemic will influence its outcome

Combatting Covid-19 is as much about public relations as public health. Now is our chance to tell new stories and find new ways of working together

Subscribers only

Toxic power struggle hits public works

With infighting and allegations of corruption and poor planning, the department’s top management looks like a scene from ‘Survivor’

Free State branches gun for Ace

Parts of the provincial ANC will target their former premier, Magashule, and the Free State PEC in a rolling mass action campaign

More top stories

Air pollution link in 15% of global Covid-19 deaths

Researchers have found that, because ambient fine particulate air pollution aggravates comorbidities, it could play a factor in coronavirus fatalities

Mboweni plans to freeze public sector wage increases for the...

The mid-term budget policy statement delivered by the finance minister proposes cutting all non-interest spending by R300-billion.

SAA to receive R10.5-billion government bailout after all

Several struggling state-owned entities received extra funds after the medium term budget policy speech

BMW X3 thrives in the M stable

The compact SUV is so at home with its new badge that’s it’s surprising it didn’t happen sooner

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday