Passion Guides Romney’s Debate Win

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

The Subtleties of Media Bias: Spotting Spin

The very competitive GOP presidential primary has produced a thought-provoking dichotomy after each battle — there’s the score and then there’s how the media covers the score.

On Super Tuesday, 10 states were contested. This was the lead paragraph of the NY Times story the next morning:

Mitt Romney appeared to pull off a narrow victory in Ohio on Super Tuesday but lost several other states to Rick Santorum,  a split verdict that overshadowed Mr. Romney’s claim of collecting the most delegates and all but ensured another round of intense infighting on the road to the Republican presidential nomination.

Is there any doubt in your mind the writer is hoping the race continues? It makes for good copy and sells more newspapers. But is that lead really an objective treatment of what happened?

Note the subtleties in the lead. There was a consensus Ohio was the big prize on Super Tuesday. Romney won it, yet that win is immediately contrasted to Santorum victories in three states, not with Romney’s wins in five others. The lead suggests the “split verdict” overshadowed Romney’s claim of collecting the most delegates. Who says it “overshadowed” it? That’s the reporter speaking. And what does he mean Romney’s “claim?”  He collected the most delegates. The numbers are what they are.

How often are three items (the number of states Santorum won) referred to as “several?” Wouldn’t you typically refer to three as a few?

Media bias is often a thousand cuts disguised in subtlety.

Here’s a more objective description, very factual, with the appropriate emphasis on states and delegates:

Mitt Romney won twice as many states as his closest opponent on Super Tuesday, including the biggest prize, Ohio. The wins expanded Romney’s lead in the delegate count. Rick Santorum won three states, strengthening  his claim he is Romney’s chief rival.

My analysis is of a news report, not commentary. The pundits are allowed to say whatever they wish and, often times, they have their own agendas. But that’s not news reporting, it is commentary. Unfortunately, the line is getting harder and harder to find.

The writer is a former TV news anchor/reporter and current adjunct media professor.

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Mitt’s Rich Guy Problem: New Message Needed

Mitt Romney’s background is by far the best of any presidential candidate, including Mr. Obama, yet his “connection” problem may block his path to the White House.

First of all, wealth is not the deal breaker. The Senate is bursting with millionaires and it was the Democrats who produced presidents named Kennedy and Roosevelt in the last 80 years.

There is a prevalent perception Mitt doesn’t “get” everyday people. This has been nurtured by Mitt’s own mistakes and the cynical class warfare stoked by the Obama campaign (and even by Santorum and Newt).

When Mitt tries to “be like us” it doesn’t work. Driving two Cadillacs doesn’t make you closer to autoworkers and being friends with NASCAR owners doesn’t make you one of the boys for everyday racing fans. And you probably don’t know anyone who makes $10,000 bets.

Mitt’s not like us and that’s OK. Great success isn’t a curse. We don’t need a president who is like us as much as we need a president who is for us.

Mitt’s needs a new message, something like this:

I understand my lifestyle is different than most Americans and if you’re looking for a cigar-smoking Friday night poker player I am not your guy. I need to a better job appreciating how my words can be interpreted. I’ll work on that. The truth is I have been blessed with all the personal success one could ask for. No one could argue I am running for president for personal gain. I’m motivated by the desire to create the same opportunity for everyone else and my success gives me a unique perspective on how to make that happen. My charitable record indicates my altruism is sincere.

Wearing jeans doesn’t make you in touch. Mitt should directly address the connection issue often and provide more compelling personal examples of how he would help you.

The writer is a former GOP elected official and a message strategist.

Presentation Expert Grades Six Iowa Caucus Speeches

The speeches from the six candidates involved in the Iowa Caucuses were remarkably different — some good, another a little weird, and one downright awful.

The best came from Ron Paul. He spoke to his audience rather than at them. He acknowledged his volunteers were his real asset and those volunteers have generated the most electricity. Nearly 40 percent of those voting were first-time caucus goers and nearly 40 percent of those voted for Paul. Paul’s strong conviction and his consistency on the core issues of protecting individual liberty and cutting runaway spending have struck a chord that all Republican candidates must address. While his “deal breaker” policies (i.e. foreign policy, drugs) will very likely prevent his nomination, his ability to viscerally connect with followers is unmatched in the campaign. Grade: B+

Rick Santorum had a great opener, “Game On,” showing he was now in the first tier after nearly 400 appearances in the state. He emphasized his family values with some poignant examples — his grandfather and his disabled child. They were no doubt heart felt references and they play well to his base. Santorum must be cautious, however, about being over indulgent in this area. The campaign isn’t about him, it’s about them (the voters). His speech tended to meander and went far too long. Quantity is not quality. Grade: B

Mitt Romney was quite gracious congratulating Santorum for both his hard work and for his “victory,” even though the actual result wasn’t known yet. He also saluted Paul. He stayed on message but seemed to be a little bit on auto pilot. Romney is a polished speaker but his potential pitfall is not appearing genuine enough. His policy flip flops make this concern even more critical. Grade: B

Rick Perry was genuine but obviously vague on what he’ll do next. He should have just congratulated the winners, stated his case and left the next step for another day. His “reassess” line created the headline, stepping on everything else. Grade: C-

Michele Bachmann was honestly a little weird. This was a time to speak from the heart, now read from a text. The prepared remarks were not that compelling and she is capable of doing better on her own. Grade: C-

And then there was Newt. Complete Disaster. Anger never sells well in a concession speech. He whined once again about negative ads and then called one of the night’s winners “stunningly dangerous” and another winner, the “Massachusetts moderate” (moderate is a dirty word in a GOP primary). Newt’s fall resulted from his own personal baggage. This speech added some more of it. Grade: F

The writer is a public speaking coach and trainer, former elected GOP official, and media professor.

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