In keeping with the rapid-fire pace of this election cycle, the respective party committees have already produced post-debate videos, and much like the candidates performances' themselves, one is significantly more effective than the other. The debate gave Team Romney quite a bit more to work with than Team Obama, and it's painfully evident in the two videos they each produced.
Let's look at the Democrats' offering first, "Mitt Romney: What a Guy." They don't have much to work with; their candidate's performance was tepid at best -- Charles Blow in the New York Times called him "President Xanax," which has to hurt -- so naturally, their focus is on attacking the other guy. It features a few Lefty talking heads disparaging Romney as "overly aggressive," interspersed with clips of Romney "attacking" moderator Jim Lehrer (nevermind the fact that Obama was guilty of the same moderator-scolding).
Props to them for managing to use Obama's bewildered, half-present facial expression in a way that made him look more hapless than irritated and bored. Truly, that's a feat of video editing few would've thought possible.
Interestingly, that ad lacks any substance whatsoever -- they're not hitting Romney for any of what he said, nor are they using their own guy's words to build him up. The best they could do after the debate was whine that Romney was too harsh on Obama and Lehrer. Splicing together a few seconds-long clips of Romney sparring with the moderator is a great way of admitting, "We have nothing to offer affirmatively." Besides, given the tone of ads like this, I'd hardly say they're in the position to call for civility.
The RNC, by contrast, managed to take a shot at Obama while simultaneously highlighting some of Romney's especially strong points in "Smirk." The whole video is a split screen of Romney talking about how to fix the economy -- and how Obama has continued to harm it -- with the president nodding, smirking, and looking down at the podium while listening to the powerful indictment of his job.
In addition to trotting out statistic after statistic about the ways Obama has failed on the economy, Romney managed to up his likability score by emphasizing the plight of average Americans. He's faced quite a bit of criticism -- from both sides -- that he comes across as out of touch with the middle class, but he did a good job of identifying their struggles and noting the ways he would work to relieve them. All the while, Obama avoided eye contact with his challenger, a shortcoming for which even uber-liberal Bill Maher chastised him. Obama doesn't appear defiant, or like he's dying to bust out and defend his record; on the contrary, he looks wildly uncomfortable, and that translates culpability.
The different tactics the videos used -- one devoid of substance and based on personality politics, the other focused on lifting up a candidate's words while showing the other's reaction -- provide a good contrast of what each campaign has to work with, and what direction they're going. And as Guy noted earlier in his post about focus groups, the substance -- and lack thereof -- was not lost on undecided voters.