Forget about Barack Obama’s eagerly awaited emergence from his first debate coma: the biggest question about the second candidate confrontation centered on whether Mitt managed to maintain his undeniable momentum.
After all, a flurry of pre-debate polls showed Romney as the newly minted frontrunner—especially a Gallup survey that gave him a commanding 50-46 percent lead among likely voters in all twelve swing states, including such purportedly impregnable Democratic bastions as Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and (surprise!) New Mexico.
Did the Mittster do anything to disrupt or accelerate his apparent progress toward a solid victory on Tuesday, Nov. 6, which is three weeks from last night?
The best way to answer that question involves a consideration of Romney’s biggest score, his weakest moment, and the evening’s overarching impressions and emotional takeaway.
BIGGEST SCORE: Romney helped himself enormously by stating and restating the essential theme of his campaign for the presidency: The last four years have damaged and disappointed the United States and, under new leadership, we can and will do better. This pitch deliberately echoes the “we can do bettah” line that allowed John F. Kennedy, the last president from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to defeat Richard Nixon in 1960.
In this context, Romney relentlessly and repeatedly recited the painful results of Obama’s leadership: high unemployment, lower income for the middle class, higher gas prices and insurance premiums, increased poverty and swelling dependence on government transfer payments. With his confident delivery of this obvious indictment, Romney gained a double benefit: discrediting Obama at the same time he demonstrated his own compassion for and identification with the real suffering of everyday Americans.
Romney deployed the term “middle class” with promiscuous abandon, emphasizing his concern for 100 percent of the populace, so that when Obama used his closing statement to finally get around to citing the controversial “47 percent” remarks that Romney himself has forcefully repudiated, it seemed like an irrelevant afterthought. Surprisingly, Obama’s boasts about his own achievements (more resources for border security, five and a half million new jobs, the utterly meaningless Lilly Ledbetter Act, and so forth) never even attempted to rebut Romney’s assertions (echoing Joe Biden) that the middle class “has been buried.” No one watching this debate could reasonably doubt that Romney has staked his entire argument for new leadership on the concerns of hard-pressed ordinary Americans, not the interests of pampered plutocrats.