The debates are over, and although most of my fellow pundits were quick to tell us before they started that historically they don’t impact the eventual outcome, this time they certainly have.
This race hasn’t been the same since the first debate. Mitt Romney’s rout of a beleaguered and bored-looking Barack Obama dramatically altered the trajectory of the race from leaning strongly to the president to a toss-up/leaning Romney. The president bounced back somewhat in the second debate, and was much stronger in the final debate Monday night, but he’s still not been able to regain the momentum he lost in the first debate in Denver.
If Romney goes on to win this election that first presidential debate will go down as the biggest debate game changer in modern American political history.
So with the debates concluded, the campaign has now entered its final phase. The popular vote is trending Romney, but the Electoral College remains razor close and the president still has more routes to 270 than Romney does—although Romney’s path is much easier than it was at the beginning of October.
Heading down the stretch, the answers to these seven questions could determine the eventual outcome:
1. Will there be an October surprise? For example, the president clearly has a foreign policy edge over Romney, so could there be an unforeseen circumstance on the global stage that gives Obama one last chance to appear as a strong leader? Something like a rogue nation such as Iran doing something to insert itself into the election if it thinks it can handle an Obama second term more easily than a President Romney? Another potential October surprise could be the final two economic forecasts before the election, which will be on the rate of growth and unemployment. Will there be much more robust or negative numbers there when par for the course is expected? Or could it be something totally unforeseen, like George W. Bush’s revealed long-ago DUI on the eve of the 2000 election, which nearly cost him enough votes to give Al Gore the presidency?