Recap: Presidential Debates

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Both candidates walk out on stage; they shake hands and smile like they are best friends. However, all of America knows that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are bitter rivals.

On Oct. 3, the two met at the University of Denver for the first debate in the 2012 presidential election. The debate, which focused on the topic of domestic policy, was moderated by the veteran PBS anchor Jim Lehrer. The debate was divided into six 15-minute sections: three focused on the economy, one on healthcare, one on the role of government, and one on governing.

It was not long before the discussion became heated. To many it seemed as if Lehrer was doing very little moderating at all. This, combined with the open-ended topics, allowed for extensive intermixing of issues. Both candidates jumped between the debt crisis, job creation, taxes, and education. The president continually insisted that Romney’s plan would force a tax increase on the middle class, because reducing the debt would be impossible otherwise. However Governor Romney calmly defended this claim, explaining that his reduction in tax rates will boost the private sector, create jobs, and bring in more revenue.

Immediately following the conclusion of the debate, the big question in the news community was, “who won?” However, it was not long before Romney was deemed debate champion. Unexpected to many, Romney repeatedly flooded the president with issues and was faced with a weak offense from his opponent. Obama received heavy criticism for not seeming “present.” Both the late-night comedy show “Saturday Night Live” and The New Yorker magazine poked fun at the aloof incumbent.

In the succeeding days, the Romney campaign had a full turnaround. A campaign that was beginning to be out of the running received a momentum change. Romney’s polling numbers jumped in key swing states like Ohio, Virginia, and Colorado, where the debate was held. Going into the vice presidential debate, the race appeared to be nearly tied between the two camps, with Romney having a slight lead.

On Tuesday, Oct. 17, the two candidates met at Hofstra University in New York. This time the debate had a town hall format, in which undecided voters personally posed the questions to the candidates. After a previously weak performance, President Obama came out swinging. The debate became intense very quickly, as both candidates invaded one another’s space and did not hesitate to interrupt. This debate also brought some new issues to the table, such as women’s rights, gun control, oil, and foreign policy.

Governor Romney had stark criticism of Obama’s record. When one former Obama voter asked him why he should change his vote, Romney blasted the president’s failure to improve the job market, the rising gas prices, the reliance on China, and the failure to solve the debt crisis.

President Obama used some keen strategy, and on the final question he finally addressed Romney’s 47% gaffe. When asked about the most common misconception voters would have, Romney stated that he cared about 100% of the American people. Obama, having the final word, used this opportunity and called out the governor for his previous statement by personalizing the question for those individuals in that 47%, such as students, veterans, and the elderly.

One of the most common phrases heard throughout the night was “not true!” Both candidates were vigilant in attempting to point out their opponent’s false claims, something Obama failed to do in the first debate. Governor Romney repeatedly asserted that the president never labeled the Libya embassy tragedy a terrorist attack. However, moderator Candy Crowley quoted directly from the transcript of the president’s speech in the Rose Garden following the attacks, and Obama did in fact mention “acts of terror.” A memorable moment, this rare fact correction by the moderator inspired a reaction in both the audience and the media. Similar arguments over semantics were present throughout the whole debate.

Just as the debate seemed to be an equal clash between both sides, so were the polling numbers afterwards. The day before the third debate, the Real Clear Politics Average showed an exact tie of 47% for both Obama and Romney.

The stakes were high going into the third and final debate at Lynn University in Florida. Many predicted that Governor Romney would remain on the defensive in this final meeting given his recent momentum. He did so, and consequently looked very presidential. The general consensus was that the president was the winner, having won on more talking points, yet his opponent looked much more calm, and in the spirit of the foreign policy topic, like a commander in chief. However, this debate also supported the belief that the economy is the main issue in the 2012 presidential election. The debate, which focused on foreign policy, had the least amount of attention and viewership of any of the three presidential debates.

Romney once again took minimal offense on the recent Libya controversy, and actually seemed more centrist, agreeing with the president on many issues. Many praised the governor when he attacked Obama from the left, saying that “killing bad guys” is not the way to solve the terrorist threat. The President definitely succeeded in defending his own record on military spending, pointing out the death of Osama Bin Laden, as well as his withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is clear that these debates have played a major role in determining the outcome of this election. Voters have seen their two candidates head to head, and have been able to make a more informed decision. With an essential tie in polls going into the final days, the outcome will be very interesting.

By Sam Rubenstein, Staff Writer ’14

See more articles by Sam Rubenstein


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