So yes, there was another presidential debate last week, but we’re pretty much at the point where debates don’t really yield many revelations for the politically engaged. Which is probably why we end up focused more on the "horse race" approach of who performs better and why. And I’ll get to that in a moment.
This was also the week where things got a little fun. The Al Smith dinner — a white tie Catholic charity affair — is always a welcome respite from the debates and rallies, an event where we finally get to hear the jokes that each campaign’s speechwriting teams have probably been kicking around for a few months.
Obama: "Of course, world affairs are a challenge for every candidate. After some of you guys remember, after my foreign trip in 2008, I was attacked as a celebrity because I was so popular with our allies overseas. And I have to say I’m impressed with how well Governor Romney has avoided that problem."
Romney: "I have already seen early reports from tonight’s dinner. Headline, Obama embraced by Catholics. Romney dines with rich people."
Levity is infiltrating the wider campaign. Much media speculation surrounded October surprise, a mysterious website which promised to reveal something surprising about one of the presidential candidates once the countdown clock on its homepage reached zero. It wouldn’t be a major event without some Rick-rolling.
Also, this witty (and arguably, accurate) analysis of Mitt Romney’s tax plan did the rounds of the interwebs.
And while we’re all having such fun, check out this interesting breakdown of the typical pro-Obama and pro-Romney voter based on StumbleUpon data. Long story short, pro-Obama people prefer John Lennon while pro-Romney voters favour Led Zeppelin.
Confusingly, if you’re pro-Obama you’re more likely to enjoy The Dark Knight, but pro-Romney people tend towards Batman as their favourite comic book character…
It’s getting close
Of course, I was just buttering you up there before I get to the serious news, which is that the tightening of this race could lead to problems of Bush vs Gore proportions.
Though the full effect of Obama’s stronger showing in the second debate has yet to filter through in most polls, last week Romney held on to many of the poll leads he garnered after the first debate. The widely-respected (usually) Gallup poll placed him in a decidedly strong lead of 51-45 over Obama, prompting two things:
1. Many commentators questioned Gallup’s methodology;
2. The Fox News website plastered the story across its homepage.
Whatever poll you believe most, we’re sure to be in for an absolute squeaker, which raises concerns just 12 years after the Bush vs Gore disaster.
This excellent piece from the Seattle Times ponders a few of the nightmare scenarios that November 6 could offer, most worryingly an electoral college tie (the American equivalent of a "hung parliament", if you will).
As for the debate itself, it was actually … good.
The town hall debate is an interesting format whereby the candidates’ body language, particularly when engaging with the audience and each other, is seen as an important aspect. Clinton nailed it in 1992, stepping towards an audience member (practically into the first row) to hear her concerns about the recession while Bush Sr dithered over the inconsistencies of the question, a major turning point for many observers.
Bush Jr did much better in 2000 when Gore stepped into his space in what was seen as an attempt to intimidate.
This year’s flashpoint came as Romney and Obama sparred over oil production over the last four years. Probably not an election dealbreaker for anyone, but it made for interesting viewing as Romney and Obama accused each other of untruths face-to-face.
The candidates got a little close to each other again when discussing foreign investments and pensions, though Obama managed to diffuse that situation with a clever quip that was probably the soundbite of the night.
Romney was on his feet throughout the debate, turning to Obama and addressing him directly when criticising him, while Obama addressed his criticisms of Romney primarily to the audience. Nobody seemed to take this too badly, though, as Obama was widely perceived as having performed better on the night (and redeemed himself somewhat after the first debate).
Romney’s key mistakes were the widely-ridiculed remark that as governor of Massachussetts he had sought "binders full of women" while scouting out candidates for his Cabinet.
The remark was not only poorly phrased, but also subsequently discredited.
Romney’s other key failing concerned the attack on the Benghazi embassy in September, which was expected to be one his strong points. The Obama administration has appeared inconsistent in its initial characterisation of the attacks as a protest gone wrong, while further damage was done with the emergence of cables from the embassy revealing that they had requested more security in the weeks leading up to the attack.
Instead, Romney lost on the night by thinking he had trapped Obama in a lie, only to be corrected by the moderator (her most meaningful interjection of the night).
Romney was aggressive, and he needed to be. But Romney is also considered to be at his worst when he deviates from the script. Unfortunately, he still lacks the political skill to carry him through two debates without mucking things up a bit.
Interesting article of the week
The New York Times came up with a fantastic graph detailing the "swinging" of each state from election to election. Well worth a click.
Campaign video of the week
Redder-than-red North Dakota may actually be about to elect a Democratic senator. This is why (Julia, take note).
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