The consensus is Mitt Romney won Wednesday night’s debate. If we use the factors I listed in my last blog to score the debate, what is the result?
Delivery: Romney was less hesitant than he has been in the past, but was not spellbinding. On the other hand, Obama seemed asleep. I score Romney a 3 and Obama a 2.
Responsiveness to questions: This is the "duck" factor. Again, politicians are terrible about this. A person does not answer a question when that person simply tries to spin it into his or her talking points. Here, though, the problem was one of outright lies on Romney’s part. He won’t touch Medicare for the young? He will insure pre-existing conditions? His own people had to contradict him after the debate. Obama did not jump on this. For that Obama should be penalized. I score Romney a 2 and Obama a 1.
Evidence: Romney is short on facts. He did not tell the truth about several aspects of his proposals for America. He did the same thin on Wednesday night. Again, Obama did not call him on this. For that—again—Obama should be penalized. I score Romney a 1 and Obama a 0.
Demeanor: Obama started the debate with an apology to his wife about how he would not spend their next wedding anniversary in a debate. That is not the way to set the tone for a debate. As I said the other day, demeanor is a key factor. People say they want substance and not form, but then go out and buy a product based on the best flashy ad campaign. Romney even ignored protocol and overrode to ineffective moderator. Points on this: Romney 4, Obama 1.
Organization: Both candidates shot this one in the tushy. They tossed aside any pretense of what had been set up. Still, Romney mangled the format to his advantage. Romney gets 2 points, Obama 1.
Gaffes: Big Bird was not a big gaffe. It was a gaffe, sure, because it sounds dumb and the other side will use it. Give this category Obama 1 point to Romney’s 0.
Let me make sure I have the math right. Romney: 3 + 2 + 1 + 4 + 2 + 0 = 12 points. Obama: 2 + 1 + 0 + 1 + 1 + 1 = 6.
For a novice round in high school these scores would be pathetic. In a college round, people would lose scholarships. Speakers generally receive 26-28 points for a decent round. For a debate between candidates for President of the United States, this was unforgettable. If the President was so concerned about his anniversary, his people should have told the debate organizers to set the event for a different date. As my colleague and fellow blogger, Paul Ogden, has noted, the challenger historically has won the first presidential debate against an incumbent, the excedption being 1996. Dole was no match for Clinton.
One category we had in college was "refutation." The other day I thought that was not applicable to this particular setting. For that assessment I apologize. Romney made false statements or contradicted positions he had taken recently. Those instances were ripe for attack. Obama did not attack.
There are two more debates. The next is a "town meeting" setting. Look for Obama to come out very aggressively. Also, that is a format more amenable to Obama. Then again, I was wrong in my prediction for the first debate.