President Barack Obama used an attacking style and an incumbent’s foreign policy advantage to win on points in his third presidential debate with Governor Mitt Romney. A CNN poll of debate viewers gave Obama a 48-40 edge.
Yet, Romney passed two important tests. Those same viewers placed the two men in a virtual tie on being commander-in-chief, a key test for any challenger in a foreign policy debate with a sitting president. Romney also gained a virtual tie (Obama 48%, Romney 47%) on likeability, a key Romney disadvantage in the campaign.
The President had a sharper focus on foreign policy issues, capitalizing on his first-hand experience. Romney was too vague and much more willing to agree with the president than in previous debates. Romney’s sharp pivot to domestic policy did help his cause, but his decision to pass on the Libya controversy indicated his strategy in debate three was to try to be more likable than forceful.
Obama repeatedly attempted to portray Romney as “reckless,” yet Romney gave him little ammunition. The challenger gave an extremely measured performance emphasizing peace and taking a much more conciliatory tone towards China. The voters must decide for themselves if this is shift in emphasis or a shift in position.
The final presidential debate was more of a chess match than a fist fight. We’ll have a better idea of who really won in two weeks.
The writer is a speaking coach, adjunct media professor, and former elected official.
In the second presidential debate, both men exploited their opponent’s weaknesses. President Obama was more assertive than the first debate, much better at punching back this time. He was more prepared on Mitt Romney’s record and had effective moments highlighting some of the inconsistencies in Romney’s record. He also turned the tables on Romney over the Libya attack, saying it was “offensive” to suggest they played politics there.
Romney, showing message discipline, pounded away at Obama’s jobs record, his biggest vulnerability. Romney’s best moment occurred when a black man, Michael Jones, stood up and told the president he voted for him last time but is undecided now, asking him, “What have you done?” to earn his vote. Romney followed Obama’s tepid response telling Jones you asked the question because “you’re not confident the next four years will be better.”
President Obama seemed a bit angrier than Romney, certainly not the cool hand we’re used to seeing. Moderator Candy Crowley said she didn’t sense personal animosity between the two men, saying it was more a case of them being “intense” and having a “sense of urgency.”
Romney mishandled the last question; “What’s the biggest misperception about you?” He repeated he is 100% for the people, a defensive response to his 47% remark. It opened the door for Obama who blasted him with it in his close. Obama’s stronger finish was a significant edge.
A CNN poll of debate watchers gave Obama a slight win over Romney, 46-39. That edge may be due to low expectations after his first debate. 73% of those polled said Obama did better than they expected. Obama stopped the slide from his first performance and Romney proved once again he can go toe-to-toe with the president of the United States.
Can’t wait for Round Three.
The writer is a speaking coach, political consultant, and former elected official.