After former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney handily bested the president in the Denver debate, he broke out the doldrums and surpassed the president in national and battleground state polls.
Almost all objective observers of Tuesday night’s presidential debate credited President Barack Obama with “winning” the verbal scrum, if only by recovering from his first debate rigor mortis affliction.
Yet three days removed from Obama’s victory, many polls still have Romney in the lead, and in some surveys by a bigger margin after Round II.
The Republican nominee has a six point lead over the president in Gallup’s national poll, a three point lead in Rasmussen’s Virginia poll, a one point lead in Iowa and New Hampshire surveys conducted by the Daily Kos-affiliated Public Policy Polling and a five point lead in Florida via Rasmussen.
The only blips of relevant good news for the president in the surveys released on Friday was a Rasmussen poll in Wisconsin that gave the president a two-point lead and FoxNews poll that gave him a three-point lead in Ohio.
Concerning the Ohio numbers, while the president enjoys a plurality in that survey, his 46% is not exactly a boost of confidence, as undecideds generally don’t break towards the incumbent, AKA the known quantity.
The president also has a seven-point lead in Oregon, according to a poll run by Survey USA, though that’s hardly worth breaking out the champagne, especially since Obama carried the Beaver State by over 17% four years ago.
So if the president did indeed win the Hofstra debate, where’s the Barack bounce?
The lack of shift can’t be attributed to a significantly diminished audience as almost as many people watched the second presidential debate as the first.
The town hall debate attracted 65,600,000 television viewers, only 1,600,000 fewer viewers from the first round.
It’s also possible that the public hasn’t fully digested Round II, though Romney’s numbers started to move quickly after his debate win.
So how else can a dearth of poll traction by the president be explained after his consensus triumph in the Tuesday night debate?
Perhaps the president didn’t really win the second debate after all.
Let’s take a look at a similar situation that played out in the leadoff debate in 2004, where practically everyone thought John Kerry beat President George W. Bush.
Though Kerry won on “points”, the Massachusetts senator erred when he presented the incumbent a gift that would keep on giving in paid advertisements that would run long after 43’s lackluster performance was forgotten.
That gift was Kerry’s “global test” answer to the question how he would determine the appropriateness of a US preemptive military strike.
Kerry’s success was fleeting while the liability he committed in the debate was lasting.
A similar case could be made for interpreting what happened this past week: Obama won on points, yet Romney prevailed on substance.
President Obama was aggressive, engaged and polished in the second debate.
But it’s what the Democrat wasn’t: presidential and able to defend his domestic record.
Dare I say Obama was…Biden-esque?
True the vice-president made the Democratic base giddy with his wild slashing attack on Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, and beyond mining his own presidential aspirations in 2016, Joe Biden did the Democratic ticket no real harm in the vice-presidential debate.
Yet the public has a lower standard for running mates. That’s why only two have been directly elected in their own right since Andrew Jackson left the White House.
“Be more like Joe Biden” are words that no competent campaign consultant has ever said.
Rather than inspiring, Obama was at times snide, flippant and rude, particularly with his constant interruptions of Romney.
And though Romney certainly bumbled a bit in the second debate, he was perceived as being the grown up in the room. In contrast, President Obama came off like a state legislator and his behavior lacked the gravitas of the office he holds.
Romney didn’t have many good moments in the second debate but the Republican candidate shined when he picked apart the Obama economy and the president’s blue smoke and mirrors energy policy that has some Americans paying up to $4 a gallon.
Obama may have scored a tactical win on Tuesday night but the polling data showed that Romney achieved a strategic victory by coming off more presidential and displaying a mastery of the issues that matter most to the American voter.
The president’s numbers are falling and if he doesn’t retool his presentation and better defend his record, Obama’s more likely to experience a splat than a bounce.