I am among those that thought, on the whole, Romney turned in a pretty impressive performance and Obama a lackluster one.

There are three hesitations I have, however. First, I have been wrong in the past (I got two of the three Bush-Gore debates wrong, and one of the Obama-McCain ones – twice I overestimated the Democrat and once the Republican). Romney looked positive reptilian when he wasn’t talking. I don’t know how many noticed or cared, but that is one of those minor things that can color future perceptions. Second, Romney’s domineering of Lehrer didn’t come across as good. I was cringing a bit at the beginning. I don’t know if he got better or I just got used to it.

The third thing may have worked in his favor, though. It allowed him to get words in he otherwise wouldn’t have an ultimately change the format of the discussion… for the better, in my view. This debate was made more tolerable by its freewheeling style. The “two minute answers” would have been more a hindrance than a help, viewing-wiser. Lehrer is getting some criticism, but I’m glad he did what he did (or didn’t do what he didn’t do).

Even if I am right about Romney’s performance and Obama’s, I don’t think this is a gamechanger. If the press gives Romney some good headlines, it mostly serves to keep him alive. The progress made in establishing himself as something other than a right-wing caricature has to be capitalized on. I’m not sure how much faith I’d have in Romney not to screw it up.

I placed the odds of an Obama victory at 20% before the debate, and I’d place it the same now. A bad performance, though, would have shifted things possibly irrevocably in the other direction.

A part of me wonders what conversations went on behind closed doors in the Romney campaign. There was some talk at the Leaguecast of whether his apparent shift will hurt him among conservative voters. I actually wonder if the goal of the campaign now is not to convince those voters (or more specifically, the donors) that he’s in their corner, but to convince them that he can win. I wouldn’t be surprised if they were pleased with what they saw, if it pans out.

Scotch helps presidential debates go down.

Category: Statehouse

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