Remember the classic nightmare in which you show up unprepared for a test in a class that you completely forgot you had?
That’s what Barack Obama looked like last night. From the opening question, he came off as unprepared, unsteady and almost uninterested in the task at hand. He found himself on defense throughout the debate, and when opportunities arose, he failed to recognize them.
As I noted last night during the live blog, Obama seemed overconfident coming in, as if he had underestimated both his opponent and the occasion. By the end of the evening, overconfidence should no longer have been a problem. As CNN noted, 67 percent of those polled who had watched the debate declared Mitt Romney the victor.
“No presidential candidate has topped 60 percent in that question since it was first asked in 1984,” CNN polling director Keating Holland pointed out.
And a good part of that was caused by Mitt Romney. He came in hungry, needing a win, and it showed in his focus and preparation. He got the better of almost every exchange, in part because at some point in his debate prep he decided to finally make the transition from “severely conservative” GOP primary candidate to general-election candidate.
The new Romney endorsed regulation of business. He dismissed tax cuts as an economic policy. He embraced his own Massachusetts health-care plan. He talked of compromise and working together. A surprised Obama wasn’t ready to handle this latest Romney incarnation and repeatedly failed to tie the moderate, genial GOP candidate on that stage in Denver to the GOP candidate on the campaign trail.
Will the outcome of this debate, the first of three between Obama and Romney, create a ripple in the polls? It almost certainly will. I doubt it will cost Obama his lead, but it should shrink it and introduce doubt in many minds that had not previously doubted. Romney had the night that he needed to keep his funders happy and his base engaged.
The next debate, covering foreign and domestic policy in a townhall forum, will be Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in New York. I suspect that they’ll be scrambling at the White House this morning to clear more time from the president’s calendar for prep work between now and then. He can’t afford a repeat of what happened last night in Denver.
– Jay Bookman