Did the demeanor of the two Presidential candidates in last night’s third and final debate provide a signal as to how the individual candidates and their campaign brain trusts view the current status of the race? To this observer, the answer is a resounding “yes!”
In most debates, the candidate trying to gain ground with the electorate is the aggressor. In the first debate this year, that individual was Mitt Romney whose campaign, at the time, was languishing as reflected by weak poll numbers and diminished fundraising success. Romney’s decisive victory over a seemingly detached, disinterested Obama in that first debate fueled a turnaround that dramatically altered the electoral landscape in a way unaffected by the President’s better performance in the second debate.
Last night, in the third and final debate of this Presidential campaign, Barack Obama came out swinging. With “foreign policy” as its subject matter, the debate provided the President the opportunity to display the detailed insider knowledge that only a resident of the Oval Office can accumulate. Romney, as has been the case with every challenger to an incumbent President, clearly did not and could not have the same level of subject matter expertise as someone who has been intimately involved for the past four years.
Yet, Romney faired reasonably well. He agreed with the President often, with contrasts expressed in terms of degree or timing of a particular action or initiative. The President, on the other hand, was not content to simply state his Administration’s achievements or explanations of purported failures. Uncharacteristic of most participants that I have witnessed in Presidential debates past, Obama used each answer as an opportunity to attack either Romney’s stated position or Romney himself for purportedly changing his position on an issue.
And, it was this behavior on the part of the candidates that I found telling about last night’s debate. It appeared to me that the Romney team had made the conscious decision that their candidate should avoid confrontation as much as possible and provide safe answers that would not be a source of significant concern to the general electorate. The Obama team, however, seems to have decided that this was the moment for the President to “come out swinging” and “knock out” his opponent.
Pardon the sports analogy, but I’ll continue in the same vein. In short, the President appeared to have tossed up a “Hail Mary” in a desperate attempt to retain his job while his challenger appeared to be “running out the clock.”
It is often said that “actions speak louder than words.” The actions of the candidates in last night’s debate indicate to this observer that the internal polling done by the campaigns of the respective candidates shows that Mitt Romney has a more significant lead with two weeks until Election Day than the retrospective polls broadcast to the general public would suggest. In fact, my suspicion is that trend analysis indicates that Romney might be pulling away and that this election might be a Romney landslide, similar to the Reagan landslide in 1980.
Did Obama score enough points to convince voters that they should stay the course with him despite global turmoil and a dismal economic record? Did Romney appear “Presidential,” a commander who can keep America safe from foreign and domestic threats? We’ll have our answer on Election Day; or perhaps, a day, week, or month later. Yet, at this point in time, I’d caution those with heart conditions not to be shocked should Romney win handily.