How the 1st debate changed the campaign (and what it didn’t change)

Many political observers have taken to dating this campaign in terms of "BD" ("before debate") and AD ("after debate"), believing that President Obama's lackluster performance in the first general election debate has fundamentally altered the course of the race.

And judging from new national polling from Pew and Gallup, there is some evidence to suggest that the race has shifted -- with former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney making up ground rapidly.

Before we draw too many conclusions about the state of the race, however, it's important to remember that 10 days ago, the political world was on death watch for the Romney campaign. Yes, things can change fast -- and some dynamics of the contest clearly have. But there are other things that haven't changed too.

Our list of what's changed and what hasn't is below. What did we miss? The comments section awaits...

What's Changed

* Republicans are excited about Romney: Until the first presidential debate, the Romney vote was roughly 80 percent anti-Obama, 20 percent pro-Romney. The enthusiasm gains among Republicans in the post-debate Pew survey suggest that Republicans now feel as though they have a reason to vote for Romney, not just against Obama. That matters; people like to feel as they are casting an affirmative vote for their guy; John Kerry's loss in 2004 was due, at least in part, to his struggle to articulate a message beyond "I'm not George W. Bush".

* The national race is close: Put aside all of the arguments -- and they are legion -- about how, when and why these last national polls were conducted, and you are left with an obvious reality: At the national level, the Obama-Romney contest is a statistical dead heat. And that shouldn't be surprising. After a slew of national polls in mid-to-late September showed Obama with a high-single-digit/low-double-digit lead, the race had begun to tighten in other data on the eve of the debate last week. Given that almost every objective source saw the debate as a Romney victory, some movement nationally toward Romney makes sense.

* Romney is re-energized: Don't underestimate how hard it is to keep slogging through campaign stop after campaign stop with a smile on your face when you known things aren't going well for you. That was Romney's life from the moment Clint Eastwood (and his chair) took the stage at the Republican National Convention until last Wednesday night. But now the narrative has changed and, with it, Romney's demeanor and the coverage he is getting. Now we are seeing the softer side of Romney stories. The candidate is delivering forceful condemnations of the Obama foreign policy. Heck, he even looks like he is having fun speaking in the rain

* The vice presidential debate could matter: We've long been skeptical that vice presidential debates (or vice presidential picks) matter much. (How many people make their mind up about the election because of the guy standing next to the guy?) But, politics, like sports, tends to work on momentum. And right now Romney has it -- big time. If Rep. Paul Ryan delivers a winning performance at the VP debate Thursday night, the GOP enthusiasm/excitement will just continue to build. If, on the other hand, Vice President Biden -- a decidedly underrated debater -- puts in a strong performance, it could snuff out (or at least slow) the current Republican momentum.

What Hasn't Changed

* Obama's electoral vote edge: Let's assume that the national poll bump for Romney starts to trickle down into some critical swing states. (It should.) For the sake of argument, say that Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia all move toward Romney -- and he winds up winning them as well as all of the more reliably Republican states leaning or solidly in his camp today. He still loses the electoral vote to Obama. We've written extensively about this often-overlooked reality in recent months but it's worth reiterating again: Even if Romney surges in a handful of swing states, his path to 270 electoral votes remains tough. For Romney to win at this point -- assuming he can't put Michigan, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin play -- he needs to all but sweep the remaining toss-up states.

* The Obama team isn't dumb: When times are good, the candidate and his/her campaign are geniuses. When times are bad, they are idiots. Neither characterization is accurate. What we know about Obama and his team is that they have ousted Hillary Clinton in a primary, won a sweeping electoral landslide in 2008 and, until last Wednesday, run an effective campaign that had put the incumbent very clearly in the driver's seat. All of the smart strategy that went into those accomplishments hasn't disappeared suddenly. Yes, Obama laid a major egg at the debate.  But to assume that the campaign has somehow forgotten what got them to where they are because of one bad debate performance is a major mistake.

* Money, money, money: Lost amid the post-debate coverage was the fact that Obama and the Democratic National Committee raised $181 million in September, an eye-popping total that will almost certainly eclipse what Romney and the Republican National Committee collected over that same time period. What Obama's massive haul means is that the expectation that he will be badly outspent by Romney and his allies over the final days of the campaign could well be wrong. While we still expect the combination of Romney, RNC and outside conservative groups to outspend Obama, DNC and outside liberal groups on TV in the final 60 days, it won't be by a three- or even four-to-one margin. And that matters. Money talks, after all.

Obama launches Big Bird ad: Well this will get them talking.

The Obama campaign is up with a light-hearted new ad hitting Romney for wanting to end federal funding for public broadcasting. The ad features convicted corporate titans like Bernie Madoff and says, tongue in cheek, that Big Bird is the bird who oversaw it all.

"Mitt Romney knows it's not Wall Street you have to worry about; it's Sesame Street," the narrator says. The ad plays off a line Obama has used on the campaign trail juxtaposing Romney's plans for Wall Street versus Sesame Street.

No word on how much money is behind the ad, but the Obama campaign says it will run on national broadcast and cable.

Romney super PAC launches 'New Normal' ad: A new ad from the top super PAC supporting Romney hits Obama for lowering expectations about the country's economy and future.

The ad, titled "New Normal," features grim imagery and uses Obama's own words ("the private sector is doing fine") and campaign slogan ("Forward") against him.

The ad is part of a $6.3 million ad buy and will run Florida, Iowa, and Virginia for a week starting Tuesday.

Ryan jousts with local reporter: Ryan got into a testy exchange with a local TV reporter on Monday, telling the reporter he was "trying to stuff words in people's mouths."

After a series of questions about guns, Ryan talked about building community and creating opportunity in urban areas rather than passing new gun legislation. The reporter, from the ABC affiliate in Flint, Mich., then followed up by saying: "And you can do all that by cutting taxes? By -- with a big tax cut?"

"Those are your words; not mine," Ryan said, before an aide ended the interview.

Ryan then remarked to the reporter: "That was kind of strange. You're trying to stuff words in peoples' mouths?" A brief exchange followed as aides covered the camera lense.

A Ryan spokesman told BuzzFeed that the reporter was already over his allotted time and that he "embarrassed" himself with the question.

Dem super PAC uses Joe Walsh against GOP colleagues: The Democratic super PAC House Majority PAC isn't just targeting freshman Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.); it's using him against his fellow Illinois Republicans.

The super PAC is spending a combined $2.4 million on ads against three top targets in the Chicagoland area -- Walsh, Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.) and Rep. Bob Dold (R-Ill.). 

The ad against Biggert and Dold, which is co-sponsored by SEIU, features video of the always-passionate Walsh ranting at a town hall and notes that Biggert and Dold have voted with him on issues like contraception and mortgage relief.

"I am tired of hearing that crap," Walsh says in a clip that is repeated in the ad. The word "crap" is beeped out.

Another ad targeting Biggert specifically ties her to George W. Bush and the tea party.

Fixbits:

Ohio Democrats run an ad calling Romney a University of Michigan fan.

A poll from GOP-leaning pollster Susquehanna in Pennsylvania shows Obama at 47 percent and Romney at 45 percent.

A new WBUR poll shows Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) leading Elizabeth Warren 48 percent to 45 percent.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) debated Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) on Monday. The recap is here.

A Mason-Dixon poll of the North Dakota Senate races shows Rep. Rick Berg (R) tied with former state attorney general Heidi Heitkamp (D).

Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.), who earned the endorsement of the National Rifle Association on Monday, took to Twitter on Sunday night to berate his opponent over a crossbow accident.

A GOP poll shows Republican Jonathan Paton leading former congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick (D) in Arizona.

Must-reads:

"6 keys to a Mitt Romney revival" -- Maggie Haberman, Politico

"In Missouri, clergy in the fray of Akin race, seeing it as start of a ‘battle for the soul’ of GOP" -- Tom Hamburger, Washington Post

"Bill Clinton to Hit Stump for House, Senate Democrats" -- Kyle Trygstad, Roll Call

"Why Harry Reid Hates Mitt Romney" -- John Stanton and McKay Coppins, BuzzFeed

"Across the electoral map, a mixed picture for candidates down the ballot" -- Karen Tumulty, Washington Post

"Inside the campaign: The Romney rebellion" -- Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, Politico

"U.S. Ties Legislator’s Ex-Associate to Mob" -- Alison Leigh Cowan, New York Times

"Security dwindled before deadly Libyan consulate attack" -- Sharyl Attkisson, Margaret Brennan, CBS News

"In Congress, a Shrinking Pool of Moderates" -- Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times

 

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