Obama gets back on track in testy debate

Obama gets back on track in testy debate

1.32am London
The race is tied, the pressure is growing and I for one am positively drooling with anticipation. If anyone ever doubted how important excellent communication skills are in the election process then I hope they are tuning in now.

Romney is in the ascendency. Obama needs to up his game if he is to hold onto the White house. The next 90 minutes may well shape the race from here on in.

Obama holds paper thin leads in the swing states having had somewhat of a cushion since the conventions. If he fails to connect tonight then the Republicans may well gain the momentum necessary to push them over the top on November 6th. On the other hand if Obama can turn it around he should strengthen his hold on re-election.

So what will people be looking for tonight? If you are a pundit, you will be looking for any mistake, blunder or weird facial expression that can underpin a story. If you are a voter, you are looking for a compelling narrative that connects to your life circumstances.

The candidates need to be articulate, authentic and most of all empathetic. The debate tonight should be less adversarial than Denver as the format is a “town hall” setting. This means that the questions come from the audience (82 undecided voters handpicked by Gallop). These questions will be more personal and the candidates need to be a little more careful about attacking the other guy as this can look disrespectful.

Here we go…

Well I was wrong about the adversarial bit! Both of the candidates are being quite aggressive immediately. Obama is very focused, articulate and a total contrast to this performance in Denver. With Romney it is more of the same. They have clearly been watching other debates as they both use every opportunity to call each questioner by name and talk directly to them (think Bill Clinton in ‘92).

When the subject turns to energy we get our first physical stand off. Romney tries to assert himself and Obama stands his ground but eventually Romney forces the President back to his chair. I wonder how all this physical posturing will play with the viewers.

The questions are quite unique and personal and the candidates are doing their best to avoid answering them – instead they are using them as an opportunity to roll out their talking points.

Joke of the night:
Romney: (after being accused of having investments in China) “Are there Chinese investments in your pension Mr President? Answer the question!
Obama: “I don’t look at my pension…it’s not as big as yours.” (ouch).  The audience laughs.

The debate is pretty even with Romney hitting the President relentlessly on his record but this time Obama has a good answer for most attacks and is negatively deconstructing Romney’s positions.

Moment of the night:
It is a question about the attack on the consulate in Benghazi. The President is under pressure on this one so it should be a gift for Romney. Timelines are important and the Administration has been sketchy at best in explaining what happened.

Romney goes on the attack and highlights the Administration’s poor response. The President states that he called the attack an act of Terror 5 days after it happened. Romney pushes further and questions the validity of the President’s statement (with an accusatory and dare I say hostile eyebrow raise). The President asks him to continue…. This should be a signal that the President knows he is right… Romney persists and then is corrected by Candy Crowley (I think we have found the sound bite that will be played on the news).

The closing statements cement Obama’s grip on the debate and Democrats will be breathing easier tonight.

In conclusion: they both performed well but I think the President gained much more by exceeding expectations and was better at stating his case.

Verdict: a narrow win for President Obama


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