Debate No. 1: Two Takes, Two Winners

BY News Desk  October 3, 2012 at 10:13 PM EDT

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and President Obama went head to head in the first of three presidential debates. Photo by John Leyba/The Denver Post

We solicited two takes on tonight’s presidential debate.

The different perspectives come from Rick Davis, who served as campaign manager for both of Sen. John McCain’s presidential bids, and Mo Elleithee, a Democratic strategist who worked for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential effort. The pair offered their takes on the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan to be Romney’s running mate, and also recently appeared on the NewsHour to discuss campaign spending.

Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee

After the first segment on the economy, Elleithee weighed in:

Mo Elleithee

“First segment goes to the President. Romney came out looking more relaxed, but then spent most of the first twenty minutes on the defensive, struggling to explain that he doesn’t support his own tax plan. For a candidate who needs a strong performance, he’s off to a shaky start.”

Then halfway through Elleithee added:

“For 21 months, Romney has argued that this election is a referendum on Obama. But we’re past the halfway point of the debate, and he’s spent the entire 1st half on the defensive over his own plan. That’s a very dangerous place for him to be.”

“Romney clearly came into this debate hoping to demonstrate that he’s the guy with the better plan to fix the economy. But repeatedly, the President called him out for having no specific plans. For voters who are just starting to focus on this race, that’s a dangerous narrative for Romney.”

Republican strategist Rick Davis

Davis sent us his reaction halfway through the debate:

Rick Davis

“This debate should have an impact on the election immediately. If Mitt Romney needed to demonstrate that he was empathetic, friendly and articulate, he’s accomplished his goal tonight. If his job was to draw a bright contrast on jobs, the economy and deficits, then he’s won the night. But the real surprise is that Mitt Romney was more articulate on health care than the President, who’s signature accomplishment bares his name — ObamaCare.

“The President seemed off his game. Noticeably uncomfortable from the start. The President seemed to ramble through his answers — less clear and not nearly as articulate than his challenger.

“The candidate who stressed a bi-partisan solution for action — Mitt Romney.”

Final Thoughts

From Davis:

“This year the campaign isn’t about change — it’s about choice.

“What we saw tonight are two clearly different views on how to get the country back to work, grow our economy and manage our country’s budget.

“If you we’re an undecided voter looking into tonight’s debate you didn’t need to watch the entire debate to see clear differences. In fact, thanks to this debate format we didn’t have an egotistical moderator injecting themselves into the debate. We saw a master craftsman: Jim Lehrer as moderator letting the two contestants describe their plans and rebut each other was well done.

“The President seemed to have a very difficult time defending his first term, in fact he didn’t even seem to try. And, stop blaming George Bush for the problems in this country. Man up Mr. President.

“Mitt Romney wants to work in a bi-partisan manner. President Obama is willing to work across the aisle as long as you completely agree with him. I don’t think undecided voters are going to have a tough choice.”

And from Elleithee:

“All in all, this was a good debate. Voters saw two very different candidates with two very different visions. That’s a good thing for voters.

“Stylistically, Romney beat expectations. He was calm, friendly and relaxed. But he fell far short of expectations on two key measures.
“First, he lacked substance. For a candidate who is trying to convince voters that he has a better plan, he was repeatedly called out by the President for a lack of specifics. That’s a dangerous place for him to be this close to the election.

“Secondly, he was on the defensive. For 21 months, he’s been trying to make this election a referendum on the President. But tonight, he was the one on the defensive — forced by the President to defend his approach on taxes, spending, health care and a number of other issues. That, too, is a dangerous place for him to be.

“At the end of the day, both candidates held their own. Neither one really ran away with it. That’s a problem for Romney, who needs a game-changer soon.

“Round one to the President.”