Romney surges as Obama fails to show up!

It has been a few days since the first debate and the electoral landscape has changed a great deal. By all accounts Mitt Romney won the debate and President Obama has been pilloried in the press for a lackluster performance that dented his chances of re-election.

Working Voices’ Nick Smallman and Henry Caplan watched the debate from both sides of the Atlantic and what follows is a conversation of their exchange of observations.

HC: This reminds me of a JFK / Nixon moment, although I think that Romney won on the TV and radio.

NS: I agree. It wasn’t just that Romney won, Obama did a lot to lose the debate.

HC: Romney did a fine job of appearing to speak with the passion of conviction that has been lacking in the past. Before this debate, Romney’s issue as a speaker has been a lack of authenticity, but tonight he answered the questions with his own agenda. Romney seemed to project a leadership platform of “concern and compassion”. He used relevant stories that connected with concerned voters and was impassioned yet gracious. He seemed finally to connect to an agenda that struck a chord with the voters.

NS: I think that basic stage-craft helped Romney enormously. Pundits argue that just by stepping on the stage, challengers seem more Presidential. Well Romney did more than that. He focused on the President, had a strong posture and spoke clearly and at a brisk pace (this did make him sound a little “salesy” but it was effective). The most important thing was his sense of urgency which was, I think, the starkest difference from the President who seemed ill-prepared and withdrawn.

HC: President Obama seemed to be on the defensive. He made good salient logical points to differentiate himself from Romney and was clear in articulating those differences. I do feel he was less effective at connecting to viewers. He seemed slightly “monotone” and tired. His eye contact was focused on his podium when Romney spoke and he didn’t seem to be speaking from a platform of inspiration or passion. It’s a tricky road to walk. Since the job of the candidate is to articulate clearly who he is and what he stands for. Obama articulated his content well but he didn’t succeed in creating a feeling with his audience. He had a chance not only to just articulate a message but also to take responsibility for a deeper connection. Leaders inspire followers. And that was the missing ingredient.

NS: It does seem odd that such a talented speaker could underwhelm in such a profound way. Al Gore blew a lead in the polls after the 2000 debate for, among other things, negative body language. The President had plenty of that, could have engaged more with Romney, could have spoken with more passion, and definitely could have prepared better – Even his closing statement was undercooked.

HC: Obama’s most effective moments were when he was talking about the free market economy as the backbone of what makes America great. His posture changed, He had more tonal variety, and he seemed to be deeply connected to his message.

I was waiting for Obama to really go after the vague answers Romney put forth; to call out the inaccuracies and lack of specifics, but he was a little too deferential. Obama needed to paint the picture of what is at stake, the consequences of the answers put forward by Romney, and how they affect people. He needed to raise the stakes.

NS: The interesting part for me was whether there was any underlying strategy at work here. All through the debate I was expecting the President to push back on Romney’s positions and to remind the viewing public about Romney’s mis-steps earlier in the campaign. There was nothing.

It seems unlikely that someone as clever and tenacious as the President would be that unprofessional…unless he had something else in mind? Has he been reading the Art of War perhaps?

We’ll find out soon if the debate has done lasting damage to the President. One thing is for sure: Everyone will be tuning in for round 2!

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