I watched the debate in Spain at 3.00AM so wasn't at my sharpest. Europe wasn't mentioned much except when Romney choose Greece as a metaphor for things going sour if the national deficit isn't tackled. I wonder how Greek US voters feel about that! Some impressions from a European perspective:
- Obama immediately started attacking Romney - didn't seem quite "Presidential", "above the fray" yadda yadda
- Obama was at a disadvantage in attacking Romney because Romney has zero actual foreign policy experience, so all Obama's criticisms seemed personal, almost petty. Romney could attack broad Government decisions or events or outcomes, and it didn't come across as quite so personal.
- Romney tacked so hard to the left on substance, it's hard to see how this could not hurt him with some of his thinking base - although the wingnuts were probably just keen to see him act "Presidential" and couldn't give a crap about actual policy.
- Romney's attempt to say he never would have "let Detroit go bankrupt" was so incredible it probably undermined his credibility on every other issue. Sometimes you just have to own up and admit you made a mistake - it hurts a lot less that coming across as totally unbelievable and dishonest - and improves your credibility elsewhere because everybody accepts you will make some mistakes and will be relieved that you own up when you do.
- Romney said the word "Peace" so many times in his closing - even where it didn't fit into the meaning of the rest of the sentence it almost sounded ridiculous - a palinesque word salad - as if some focus group polling told him that was the word which got the most positive emotional response from swing voters.
- Diehard Republicans will be satisfied that Romney looked Presidential compared to a carping President - some will worry that he tacked so far to the centre that his positions often seemed indistinguishable if not to the left of Obama. It will reassure some he is not a wingnut and others that he is "ready for office".
- On the Dem side Obama did what he had to do to reassure and bring out his base.
- My guess is that the few remaining undecideds will call it a near draw and go with the "devil the know" rather than an unknown and unknowable Romney who spent the night trying to show he is not Bush, but who is still too much of a reminder of the Bush years.
- If Romney were the incumbent and Obama the challenger, undecideds might have gone with Romney as the safer bet.
- If Romney loses narrowly he might yet become the GOP nominee in 2016. He has probably done enough to make Republican's feel he is their best hope in a contest they will be absolutely desperate to win after 8 years of Obama. He will then be regarded as "experienced" even though he will be 69 and won't actually have held down a real job in 14 years.
The MSM/polling reaction to the debate of a slight/pronounced Obama edge will probably also help swing those undecided voters who switched to the football long before the end of the debate. It will help create a narrative that Obama is back on his game and that the first debate was an uncharacteristic "blip".
Some voters need reassurance that the President still wants it badly enough to really fight for them. The setback at the first debate may actually help Obama in the long run - killing any complacency on the Democrat side and reassuring independents that Obama is not too aloof or arrogant to stop listening to them or caring about their concerns. Everybody likes a comeback kid. Romney had that going for him after the first debate - now that psychological edge is with the President.
It's better to have the late momentum rather than to peak too early and have the narrative saying your lead is slipping coming up to the polls. It's surprising how many voters make a very very late impulse decision almost after they enter the polling booth. In the privacy of that space the temptation is to play it safe - whatever fighting public positions you may have taken with your friends outside.