The Obama camp and its media spinners would like us to believe that while the president didn’t do well in the debate, the race remains his to lose. The evidence suggests otherwise. Here are eight things that changed, and which, I would suggest, make Mitt Romney the favorite:
1. Enthusiasm. Politico reports: “President Barack Obama has a worsening enthusiasm problem. A new POLITICO/George Washington University Battleground Tracking Poll of likely voters shows Obama ahead of Mitt Romney 49 percent to 48 percent nationally, a statistical tie and a percentage point closer than a week ago. The head-to-head numbers have held remarkably steady through the past three weeks, but there’s been a notable shift of intensity from the Democrats to the Republicans since the party conventions over a month ago. Most of the poll’s calls were made before Romney’s strong performance at the first presidential debate in Denver.” This enthusiasm is reflected in huge crowds now turning out for Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) rallies.
2. Inevitability. The polls have moved substantially, thereby blowing up the notion that Obama had this in the bag. Gallup tells us: “Registered voters’ preferences for president are evenly split in the first three days of Gallup tracking since last Wednesday’s presidential debate. In the three days prior to the debate, Barack Obama had a five-percentage-point edge among registered voters.”
3. Sour grapes. Bizarrely, from the perspective of conservatives, Obama is doubling down on the he accusation that Romney “lied” in the debates. This might be essential to recapture the base’s enthusiasm but it comes across as sour grapes and downright childish to swing voters. Moreover, it’s not a viable debate strategy going forward, particularly since the president doesn’t have his own facts straight. As Yuval Levin put it: “A Republican candidate stands before 60 million voters and commits to an agenda and his opponent responds that this isn’t really his agenda, and that voters should instead look to Democratic attack ads and liberal think-tank papers to learn what the Republican is proposing. That’s the strategy?”
4. Ryan. The debate wipeout will increase interest on the VP debate. VP Joe Biden should never be underestimated, but there is no Republican better at defending the facts and figures. If, as many expect, Ryan essentially ignores Biden and goes after the president’s record ( job participation, Libya, etc.) the GOP ticket may be able to lock in some of its new supporters.
5. Likability. Obama is now vowing to come out swinging. The danger here is that hyper-aggression doesn’t work all that well in a debate, especially in a town hall setting. Romney, on the other hand, has shown he can connect with voters and is now inspired to show a more personal side of himself on the stump and use a more positive set of ads. It is becoming increasingly difficult to paint Romney as a heartless plutocrat.
6. Fatigue. The Obama team claims an ad advantage in swing states, but the diminishing returns on each additional ad hit on Romney is unmistakable. Ordinary people are sick of the barrage and increasingly tune out (or switch channels) when ads appear. After voters have seen Romney in person unfiltered, the Obama attack-machine is simply less effective.
7. Independents. Romney has opened up a wide lead with independents in a number of polls. The Battleground poll, for example, has him up 16 points with independent voters. His appeals to bipartisanship in the debate were effective, and now he can continue his genial approach while Obama is forced to go on attack.
8. National security. The subject didn’t come up except in passing in the first debate, so today, in his speech at the Virginia Military Institute, Romney has an undivided screen to set out his criticisms of the president on foreign policy. Voters in large numbers won’t hear back directly from the president until the next debate on Oct. 16. The indictment of Obama’s passivity and incompetency frankly works better after voters saw the president as a passive, incompetent debater.