The Prof's Debate #2 Grades:
Debate #2 is now history. President Obama was wide awake for this one and exceeded the very low expectations after the first debate. Mitt Romney did well enough, but whiffed at a high hanging curve-ball on the Libya question. Both candidates were highly aggressive and moderator Candy Crowley lost control of the format very quickly. I scored the debate with Romney ahead by a field goal, but the President (with an assist from the moderator) was able to force a turnover and eke out a small victory.
Romney's strategy was to make this a referendum on Obama's handling of the economy. He scored on debt and oil production and made a decent defense when questioned how he was different from former President Bush.
Obama continued to attack the Romney tax plan casting doubt on its structure and financial results. He also was able to hit Romney on women's pay equity and gun control. But he took the debate at the end with Romney's fumble of the Libya issue (bet it comes up again next week though!) ans his closing statement where he hammered Romney on the now infamous 47% remark.
Instant post-debate polling showed a small victory for Obama. However, poll respondents continue to trust Romney more on the economy and employment and the polling since Tuesday has shown a static race with Romney maintaining a minimal lead overall. Gallup is showing a statistically sizable (six point) lead for Romney, but until I see other national polls showing the same, I will treat that as an outlier.
State of the race:
I will publish an extensive Electoral College update next week after the third debate. But suffice to say there has been significant movement to Romney over the past two weeks. Recent polls are showing Romney taking small leads in FL, VA, and NC is now pretty much off the table for Obama (Romney is scaling back his campaign in NC to focus on other prizes). But Obama continues to maintain a small, but stubborn lead in OH, WI, and slightly larger leads in PA and MI - although nearly all of the swing states have been moving in Romney's direction.
Obama needs to maintain a firewall to keep 270 or more electoral votes and OH is the key to this. If he wins OH, Romney will need to run the table on the outstanding swing states. But if Romney takes OH, the race will likely be over for the president. of course this assumes that Romney can win FL and VA and this is by no means a certainty.
Early voting has already begun. Initial figures are showing that both campaigns are effective in driving core voters to the polls. Contrast this with 2008 where Obama had a massive early voting advantage. Momentum also seems to be with Romney, but as we have seen, this can shift on a dime.
So now we are in the home stretch and this is shaping up to be a VERY close election. Romney was able to resurrect himself after the first debate and Obama was able to stop the bleeding over the past week. The third debate will not mean a whole lot - as long as no major gaffes are made! Now it is a game of turnout. The big issues are now:
- Who can get their base out and motivate them to vote?
- Who can appeal to independent swing voters and the truly undecided? (all 14 of them)
- Does either candidate make a major gaffe or mistake?
- The dreaded October Surprise. Do any "skeletons" come out of the closet - e.g. Bush's DUI incident that was released the Friday before the election in 2000. This was timed for maximum political damage and probably hurt Bush/helped Gore over the final campaign weekend.
- Any major foreign policy surprises - do Iran and Israel spar over nukes?