In my estimation, last night’s debate was a draw. Both men did what they needed to do for the debate, but neither had enough of a breakout performance to make much of a difference in the race. I’d expect to see very little impact to the Mitt-mentum that developed after the first debate, for reasons which I’ll address in a moment.
That wasn’t the conclusion reached by Frank Luntz’ focus group of former Barack Obama voters, and now undecideds, in Nevada. That panel overwhelmingly chose Mitt Romney as the winner, with observations about Romney’s presidential mien and Obama’s defensiveness and lack of vision for a second term. But one woman, whom (as Luntz jokes) bears a strong resemblance to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, neatly sums up the status of many undecideds, as well as Obama’s big problem with these debates:
“I was not undecided between Obama and Romney. I was undecided between Romney and not voting.”
That’s the problem for any incumbent President in the final days of the election. They get almost four years to make the case for another term. If voters are still undecided with three weeks left to go, the best an incumbent can hope to do is convince them not to vote at all. That has been the explicit campaign strategy of Team Obama since Romney wrapped up the nomination in May — to make him so toxic that the protest vote against Obama stays home.
Unfortunately, that strategy collapsed after the first debate, and its collapse made the strategy obvious enough to be offensive. Last night, Obama finally decided to show some passion about wanting a second term, but he still hasn’t explained why he wants it or what he’ll do with it, even during last night’s debate. The only case he offered was that he wasn’t Mitt Romney, the same argument that Obama used before the first debate. And he spent most of the evening speaking with an oddly high-pitched tone, as if he was offended that he even needed to go that far.
Obama gave those undecideds no reason last night to vote for him or to stay home on Election Day. That’s why nothing that happened in the debate will change the trajectory of the race.
Meanwhile, if you’re unimpressed with a Fox focus group, you can always balance that out with MSNBC’s focus group of undecideds from last night. Final score there: Obama 1, Romney 1, with the other six abstaining from a choice until after the next debate:
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for an Obama victory claim.
Update: My Townhall brother Guy Benson says I should rewatch the MSNBC focus group:
Hey Ed, saw your post (I have one going up on the focus groups later, too)….I’d gently nudge you toward re-watching MSNBC’s. I think 1-1 and 6 undeclared is very generous to Obama. Two people explicitly said they’re going Romney, and another said she’s leaning towards him now. One girl said Obama, the others didn’t commit, but even the African American remained unsold on O. Just wanted to point that out!
I’d watch it again, but it seems to be down on the YouTube site for some reason. I relied more on the tally from the moderator of the group, but Guy may well be correct.