Mitt Romney was supposedly playing away from home, but public opinion is practically unanimous: the Republican challenger comfortably beat the serving president, Democrat Barack Obama, in the first of the three televised debates scheduled to take place during the race for the White House, which will culminate on November 6. Romney, on the offensive after a string of recent gaffes, went into the election campaign as the second favorite, but he emerged from the Denver debate with a considerably more favorable image.
First, it is necessary to establish what it means to win a debate in a US election campaign: Do you have to speak more eloquently than your opponent? Present clear and convincing future government policies? Or is it enough to perform well in terms of body language and project a dynamic image?
It is enough to recall that John F. Kennedy is broadly considered to have won the first-ever televised debate in the history of the United States against Richard Nixon because the Republican had a badly shaved face and a sweaty forehead.
There is little doubt, in any case, that Romney was better prepared for the debate than his opponent. In soccer terms, the Republican dominated the midfield, appearing moderate and attractive while the president seemed tired and confused; on occasions it even seemed as though he was distracted. The figures and the plans for economic growth and job creation make up the playing field upon which Romney has a chance of entering the White House.
If we dissect the debate in terms of content, neither of the adversaries managed to completely disarm the other. Romney correctly emphasized the difficulties facing the economy. Obama simply defended himself, but without passion, failing to properly connect with the electorate when four years ago he took up the cry of “Yes, we can.”
In any case, there are two further debates remaining, in which Obama’s headquarters can fully expect that when the discourse moves toward the United States’ role in the world, Romney will assume the image of the schoolboy in front of the professor, and the president will recover his punch and mobilize his electorate.
Traditionally, presidential election debates have little effect on the direction of voter intent. The most positive aspect of the four-yearly civilized liturgy is that it was carried out in the first place, that an appreciable number of Americans watched it and that these spectators now feel they know the two candidates a little better. In the case of Romney, the first debate has opened up the possibility that voters now view him through slightly different eyes than has been the case over these past few months.