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Obama's missed debate opportunities against Romney may cost him (+video)

Though many have declared the night a 'win' for President Obama in his second presidential debate against Mitt Romney, he let several key opportunities to call Romney on the carpet go by. Think: capital gains tax rates and 'binders full of women.' Democrats still have reason to worry.

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Democrats quickly declared after the debate that Obama won. But if he did, it was by a run or two in a low scoring baseball game, not the blowout that he needed and that was well within reach if Obama were playing harder ball.

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Look at what is happening all over the Internet with people mocking Romney’s bizarre reference to “binders full of women.” The line has come symbolize his out-of-touch statements last night about women in the workforce, far overshadowing his actual record in Massachusetts. A talented politician could have made that stuff stick on live television.

Democrats are paying for picking a relatively obscure first term Illinois senator as their leader in 2008. Not only was his resume among the shortest of any American president, his opposition on the road to that Senate seat was remarkably weak. His measured style worked against Hillary Clinton in the primary debates, and against John McCain in the general election, but Obama had no record to defend and no real need to attack.

Consequently, Democrats are just finding out that Obama is about as effective a debater as the average Senate candidate. There’s no Reagan-esque humor with a wicked point, or Clinton’s ability to launch a data-driven attack that backs his opponent into a corner with a smile and folksy Southernism. 

On the other side of the stage, Romney had a blandly good night. He didn’t look as good as he did in the first debate, in part because Obama looked so much better. He was more repetitious, and that was grating. But Obama never really got under his skin, never managed to get Romney with a crisp put down.

The accepted wisdom about debates before the first Romney-Obama event was that they seldom affect the outcome. The shift in polls across the country following Romney’s first round victory show that may no longer be true, if it ever was.

Two debates down, one to go, and the president has probably stopped the decline in his poll numbers. But Romney supporters can rest assured that their guy is still very much in striking distance. It’s never easy to defeat an incumbent president, even in a time of economic struggle. But Mitt Romney may well do it, in part because the Democratic standard bearer is only an average debater.

Jeremy D. Mayer is an associate professor in the School of Public Policy at George Mason University where he also directs the masters program in public policy.


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