With no gaffes or knockout punches, body language took center stage in the first presidential debate in Denver…and that contest wasn’t even close. A CNN poll gave Romney a 67-25 advantage among viewers. No candidate has topped 60% since the question was first asked in 1984.
An energetic Mitt Romney seemed like he couldn’t wait to get started. As one of Romney’s harshest critics, liberal pundit Ed Schultz of MSNBC, put it, “Romney looked like the guy who really wanted the job.”
President Obama started slowly, nervously noting his wedding anniversary, and appeared defensive. His body language indicated the debate was, for him, a little like eating his vegetables.
Was there any doubt who was enjoying the debate more?
Romney endured 20 debates in the primary that toughened him up and allowed him to bring his “A” game. The president, who lives in a highly controlled environment, was rusty and not used to having someone directly confront him. His strategists certainly didn’t want him to jeopardize his high “likability” numbers by being too aggressive, but he may have been too passive.
Both men were smart, knowledgeable and civil. There was plenty of substance and there was a sharp contrast in the two competing visions. Romney appeared every bit the president’s equal on stage. This was critical because so much of the Obama campaign has been about making him an “unacceptable alternative.” As one Fox News focus group member put it, “Up until tonight, Obama has defined Romney. Tonight, Romney defined himself.”
There was no way to predict how the two men would appear when on the same stage together for the first time. The President’s laid back style proved to be a sharp contrast to Romney, a contrast that favored the challenger.
Bill Gates once said, “the thing I do best is share my enthusiasm.” Romney did that much better in debate one and it reversed the momentum in the campaign.
Expect round two to be much more confrontational.
The writer is a speaking coach, message strategist, and former elected official. More at markgrimm.com