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October 20, 2012

The Second Presidential Debate

If you looked at the second presidential debate in isolation, you can argue that one or another of the candidates won. There is just enough subjectivity in politics so that if you went through the exchanges and tallyied up a score of who won each you could conclude that either Romney or Obama won on "points." It's probably fair to say that the debate was a draw.

But of course you can't look at the debate in isolation. There are two other huge factors out there that influence opinion; first, the terrible state of the economy., and second, Romney's brilliant performance in the first debate and Obama's miserable performance in it.

The economy is so bad, and Obama's record so indefensible, that there are a lot of independent-moderate-swing voters who would like to vote for someone else, but are wary of trading the devil they know for a worse devil. Even though things may be bad now, they know that things can get even worse. For months now they've been hearing that that Mitt Romney was an ogre, and they were worried that it might be true. By this theory, they were wary of jumping ship.

The first debate was so lopsided that many of these voters have now decided to give Romney a second look, and some have outright said they will vote for him. It proved that Romney is not an ogre, and Obama not the all-knowing all-caring genius they'd been told about.

Yes, Obama did better in the second debate. How could he not have? Mitt Romney did well, although he dropped the ball on the Libya issue, a mistake he surely won't make in the last debate.

The tide of the election is now in Romney's favor, and polling trends clearly show him gaining support an Obama losing. If this continues, I believe he will have enough support to win on election day, perhaps by a significant margin. He might even win if the election was held today.

For Obama to reverse this, he needs to decisively win the third debate and Romney needs to commit some terrible mistake. For Romney to win, however, all he has to do is hold his own. This, again, because Obama is so weighted down by his record on the economy, on foreign policy, and in the first debate.

Although anything can happen, a decisive Obama victory that would change the trend in the election is unlikely. The election is now, I think, Mitt Romney's to lose.

On another note - these free-wheeling formats whereby the "moderator" is almost as much a part of the debate as the candidates has got to end. The way the debates, whether town-hall-style or not, are structured, is to give the moderator unprecedented power to influence the outcome, or at least individual exchanges. We saw this in the last debate whereby CNN's Candy Crowley completely blew the issue of whether President Obama had referred to the Benghazi disaster as an act of terror or not. She got it completely wrong and left many viewers with the impression that he had when he clearly had not; which she admitted later. Not only this, but since there are not time limits they try and time who said the most... the whole thing is a mess.

And, in fairness, it puts undue pressure on the moderator. It simply is not fair to put them in this position. Too much is at stake, and they are only human, so problems like what we had in the second presidential debate were bound to happen.

It seems to me that the only fair solution is to go back to the old fashioned type of debate whereby the moderator asks a question that each candidate has to answer, and each gets a set time of say one minute to answer. Each candidate gets maybe three or four 30 second rebuttals that they can use at any time. Or some variation on that basic structure, but let's get away from this ridiculous free-wheeling style. Right now they are as much style as substance, and we have too much alpha-male parading, interrupting, and the like. Let's get back to policy and substance.

Posted by Tom at October 20, 2012 8:45 PM

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