Obama advisers were saying earlier in the past week that they believed the post-Denver Romney surge had stopped. But virtually every recent poll since Denver, here in Ohio and in other battleground states, has shown movement toward the Republican challenger. Obama may still lead in enough states to win reelection, but the margins are no longer comfortable.
On Friday night, a huge crowd filled the town square in nearby Lancaster to greet Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, for a joint appearance after Thursday’s vice-presidential debate. Sen. Rob Portman, who is rapidly emerging as the Romney campaign’s most valuable player for his multiple roles as Ohio point man and Obama stand-in for debate prep, joined them on stage.
Romney spoke of seeing a “growing crescendo of enthusiasm” around the country. All candidates say that in the final weeks of a campaign, but there is more than a little truth to it in this case. Republicans are energized in ways they weren’t before, still driven more by their anti-Obama feelings but increasingly happy with their nominee.
The vice-presidential debate did not change the race in any significant way. In fact, it ended up as a booster for both sides. Vice President Biden’s aggressiveness cheered Democrats who were morose after Obama’s lethargic showing in Denver. They believe that Biden dominated and won. Republicans, who saw Biden as overbearing and condescending, came away convinced that Ryan proved himself more than ready to be vice president. To them, a draw was a victory.
The pressure is squarely on the president Tuesday night, given his performance in Denver. But Romney, too, needs a strong evening to cement the first. He cannot afford any backsliding. His advisers know that if, as expected, the president does a better job Tuesday, stories will inevitably be written about his bounce-back. No one expects a second mismatch.
Biden laid out the angles of attack that the president will pursue on Tuesday, including confronting Romney about his “47 percent” comment, the percentage of income he pays in taxes, the holes in his tax plan and the GOP ticket’s position on abortion — none of which Obama hit hard in Denver. The president’s challenge will be to deliver those attacks in a town hall debate that features questions from an audience, a format that generally rewards empathy over aggressiveness.