Conventions Matter More Than Debates: The news media treat the political conventions as irrelevant dinosaurs; the presidential debates are depicted as the Super Bowl or World Cup of politics.
It didn’t work out that way. The conventions mattered more. Romney and the Republicans blew a chance at the convention in Tampa, Florida, to reset his candidacy. In Charlotte, North Carolina, the Democrats stepped up to the challenge, especially with former President Bill Clinton’s powerful speech that set the predicate for more positive public attitudes about the economy.
Obama’s disastrous performance in the first debate with Romney certainly mattered, though the duration of the Republican nominee’s bounce was exaggerated. Before that debate, the president was about four points ahead nationally; that was his final margin.
Moving to the Center Is Tough in the Media Age: Richard Nixon advised Republicans to run to the right in the primaries and quickly move to the center in the general election. This formula worked as recently as 1980 for Ronald Reagan. For Democrats, it’s run to the left in the primaries and move to the center in the general.
This is much harder to do today with an omnipresent media tracking and assembling every public pronouncement.