Call this a buzz-kill moment for the Left, especially as it comes on MSNBC, where most of them will flock to bask in the glow of a candidate who bothered to show up for a debate. Time’s Mark Halperin notes what I pointed out on NRA News and the Hugh Hewitt Show last night — that the agenda debate took place entirely in terms of Mitt Romney. Barack Obama never mentioned anything about a second-term agenda, and its MIA status is a big, big problem for an incumbent arguing for a second term:
At least in the first polls taken after the debate, voters weren’t fooled. Obama won a narrow edge on overall performance of two points across these polls, National Journal reports, but Romney won large margins on the issues:
Despite Obama’s slight edge overall, Romney was seen as better able to handle most issues.
The trend was most notable in the CNN poll: he had an 18-point edge among registered voters on the economy (58 percent to Obama’s 40 percent ); a 3-point edge on health care (49 percent to 46 percent); a 7-point edge on taxes (51 percent to 44 percent); and, largest of all, a 23-point edge on the deficit (59 percent to 36 percent).
Obama’s only lead in the CNN poll was a slim one on foreign policy: 2 percent more of the registered voters who watched the debate said he would handle the issue better (49 percent to 47 percent for Romney).
In the CBS poll, 65 percent of respondents also said Romney would handle the economy better after the debate (though that decreased from 71 percent before the debate). Only 34 percent said Obama would handle the economy better, but that was a jump of 7 percentage points.
As I wrote earlier, Obama and his team still believe they can win the election by simply being the anti-Romney — without putting an agenda on the table for voters to see and support. That strategy was doomed to failure in the first debate anyway, but the stark contrast two weeks ago between a very presidential Romney and a disengaged and apathetic Obama magnified that effect and impact. Obama seemed to pretend last night like that never happened, which as Halperin notes could be a fatal flaw in their final three weeks.
Most voters aren’t going to go into voting booths to choose the best debater. They’re going to choose the candidate that they trust more on the issues. Obama lost the first debate by virtual default, and he’s going to lose the election the same way unless he can launch a second-term agenda in less than three weeks.