Even Barack Obama's biggest detractors admit that the man is a gifted orator. So the nation was left slack jawed last night by his weak performance. It was like watching LeBron James get schooled by Kyle Korver or something.
In the day-to-day horse race, it certainly doesn't look good for the Obama campaign, but, let's remember, American elections are marathons, not sprints. In fact, there's some good reasons why Obama supporters shouldn't be feeling totally dejected, and Romney supporters shouldn't be resting on the laurels of one debate.
1. Romney had the gaffe line that went viral.
Half the reason people even tune into these is in the hope that someone says something totally bizarre or stupid. Sadly, neither candidate delivered debate gaffe gold like "you forgot Poland," "rumors on the Internets" or "that one," but Romney had the line that went viral by declaring, "I love Big Bird" but saying he wants to cut funding to PBS. Of course, people quickly fired up Photoshop and seized on the line.
Obama himself even riffed on the declaration today, telling an audience in Denver, "Thank goodness someone is finally getting tough on Big Bird." Right now this debate is being hailed as Romney's big comeback, but it may go into the history books as the one with Big Bird.
2. George W. Bush lost all his debates and still managed to win reelection.
Granted, the world was just pleased when Dubya managed to put coherent sentences together with correct pronunciation, but even with low expectations he was still deemed the loser of all three debates back in 2004. Didn't matter though, he still went on to reelection. In fact, there's a common line of thought among pollsters and political sciences that debates don't even matter that much.
3. Romney gave the Obama campaign tons of new ammo.
While Obama stuck to what he's been saying throughout the election, Mitt Romney shed his tea bag-soaked skin leftover from the primaries and emerged as the always-shifting moderate political opportunist he's always been. Or at least that's what the Obama campaign will have you believe. Seriously, they're revving up their offensive to paint Romney as a lying flip-flopper. Plus, much of the specifics and new plans Romney finally decided to unleash last night are already being dissected. In contrast, Obama's performance, while lackluster, didn't give Romney's campaign anything new to attack him on.
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4. It could light a fire under the ass of Obama's campaign and his supporters.
In the wake of that 47 percent comment it seemed that maybe the campaign was over and Obama would cruise to an easy reelection, which could lead to complacency and lighter turn out. All the sudden this election seems competitive again, and that could rev up Obama's supporters.
5. Maybe Obama intentionally threw the debate?
We don't mean to be too cynical, but in the lead-up to last night, both campaigns were trying to paint their candidate as the underdog. Debates are as much about expectations as anything else, and we're betting most Americans were pretty sure Obama was going to wipe the floor with Romney like he did with McCain in 2004, and it probably wouldn't have mattered. "Oh, sure, he did well in the debates, but of course he did. Dude's good at talking," says the undecided voter. But now the narrative has been changed. Obama is the debate underdog, and maybe delivering strong in the final two debates will leave more of a lasting impression than cruising to a sweep.
Plus, he's better poised to win the final two anyway. The next is a town hall-style meeting, and Obama is more of a natural at interacting with regular people than Romney. The final debate is on foreign affairs, something Romney has very little practical experience on.