Romney absolutely crushed Obama in the first debate. Clint Eastwood’s chair put up more of a fight than Obama, who seemed completely caught off-guard by Romney. This is somewhat understandable, given Romney’s contradiction of his previous stances on many issues, but Obama let major misrepresentations slip right by.
Romney also surprised many voters, who up until that point had only seen Romney working to win the GOP nomination.
During his primary race Romney had to appeal to his conservative base, which was naturally a turnoff for many moderate voters. But during the first debate he completely reinvented himself, presenting himself as an experienced moderate.
This debate performance destroyed the large lead Obama had over Romney in the polls, and made many who had dismissed this election as having a foregone conclusion perk up and pay attention.
The second debate was much more interesting. The gaffe-prone Joe Biden seemed doomed to screw things up, especially compared to the young and charismatic Ryan, but Biden came out of the gate swinging and didn’t let up.
He treated his opponent with derision and constantly called him out on inaccuracies.
A particularly notable response to Romney’s tax plan from Biden was “that’s mathematically impossible” which may be the best way of shutting down an opponent I have heard in a debate.
Biden was careful to never actually say that Ryan was lying, although he once caught himself halfway through calling one of Ryan’s statements a lie. Ryan maintained calm and collected, but clearly wasn’t prepared for Biden’s performance.
In comparison to Biden, Ryan seemed like he was giving a stump speech. He also was forced to talk about his opinions on strongly limiting abortion, which was sure to bother many women voters (who have historically been a key demographic in winning the election). This debate helped energize deflated democrats, but did little to really swing public opinion one way or another.
The second presidential debate is where things really took a turning point. Obama and Romney shot back and forth at one another, but Obama quickly gained the upper hand. He gave more concrete answers to many questions, while Romney for the most part avoided specifics.
A perfect example of this was both candidates’ responses to a question about college student’s job opportunities. While Romney did mention Pell Grants, his response regarding job growth lacked any specifics, just saying “I know what it takes to create good jobs again” without actually telling the audience what it would take.
Obama responded by saying he hoped to increase manufacturing jobs through targeted tax benefits to companies that were creating jobs in the U.S. rather than outsourcing them, expand worldwide exports, create more opportunities for worker retraining at community colleges, and investing in energy independence, including green energy.
Romney also had several major slip-ups, like talking about how he had “binders full of women” in response to a question about equal pay for women, while Obama commented on his signing of the Lily Ledbetter Bill which guaranteed equal pay for women.
Romney’s biggest mistake of the night was trying to catch Obama in what he thought would be an embarrassing reveal. He talked about how the president had been secretive about the Libyan embassy attack and decided to specifically state that Obama had not called them an act of terror. After he turned to Obama and asked him to confirm that his claim was that he had called the attack an act of terror, the president coolly smiled and told him “please proceed.”
Romney didn’t pick up on the fact he was being set up, and plowed ahead, before being corrected by the moderator who had a copy of the transcript of the president’s speech on hand. The president jokingly said “can you say that a little louder Kim?”
Obama didn’t land a knockout punch, but was the clear winner of the debate. What this means for the election is still up in the air however, but things are beginning to look a little better for the future of the Obama presidency.