The former Governor of Massachusetts won with a surprisingly adept, competent performance.
Romney came out of the gate strong and was able to challenge President Obama's polices, many of which he considers failed, without appearing nasty or mean. Romney succeeded in presenting himself as a "credible alternative" to viewers, while President Obama seemed rusty, to say the least. The Republican nominee maintained strong eye contact with his opponent while looking confident. His answers were, on the surface at least, concise, orderly and straight-forward. Mr. Romney committed no discernable gaffes and all in all thrilled his supporters by exceeding expectations.
President Obama on the other hand, did not seem to have a very good night. The President's answers were long-winded, rambling, meandering and lacked emotion. Perhaps "professorial" almost. Rarely did the President look at his opponent during his responses. Whereas Romney seemed to be the aggressor from the get-go, the President was on the defensive most of the night. There was no full-throated defense of the stimulus, his jobs created, he failed to make the case for bail-out of the auto-industry, never brought up Bain Capital, Romney's "47%" comments. etc. Obama was not on his game tonight and it showed.
Substance wise however, there may be some fall-out for the Romney team as the candidate seemed to still be unwilling to provide much in the way of details. I suspect the media will press him even harder to explain his sudden move to the middle we witnessed tonight. Romney's claims on his tax plans, education and health care all seem to be changing before our eyes and will have to be defended.
What the night didn't produce was a very memorable response or smack-down. Some little digs here and there, but nothing major that I think will actually sway an undecided voter.
One thing of note was each man's faithfull-ness to their established narratives about the other. President Obama has been making the case that Mitt Romney is an out of touch, secretive elitist who will take this Country backwards. For whatever reason, Mr. Obama did not utilize these themes, whereas Mr. Romney who has maintained Barack Obama's policies have failed and he needs to be replaced, DID stay on those themes.
Mitt Romney earned the win this evening. He bloodied the President's nose. But make no mistake, he did not knock the President out, nor did he even knock him down. There are two more rounds to go in this debate season. History tells us these debates rarely effect the outcome of the election. If Mitt Romney has two more nights like tonight, he will likely be rewarded in the polls. Donations, which had been reported to be declining for Mr. Romney, will probably reverse course and improve in the short run. Its too early to tell if this will effect the election. Maybe it will, maybe it won't. But make no mistake-tonight belongs to Mitt Romney.