I may have been wrong
Last time I wrote that no matter what happened in the debate the spin meisters would declare that their side had won, and that was basically true. But, quite surprisingly, the media did not follow suit...not quite. You expected the Post to declare victory for Romney, but this morning the New York Daily News, a pro labor mostly Democrat paper, declared "Mitt's a Hit!" on their front page. Immediately after the debate finished NPR declared victory for Romney before even looking at the spot polls (I was listening on the radio on my way home from fighter practice, so I did not avoid it completely). Chris Mathews on MSNBC, with a smile even, declared the night a victory for Mitt Romney and said it would change the complexion of the race. Rachel Maddow on her blog acknowledged the polls, but, more true to form, quickly pivoted to decrying the limitations of televised debates, highlighting Romney's flip-flops, and furiously fact-checking Romney's points. But she also admitted that Romney had won. All of them did. Even the Times.
And he did. Romney was charged and aggressive. He was respectful while being forceful. He took control of the debate from the start. He finally made his long awaited pivot to the middle and it looked pretty good. The president, by contrast, was professorial, wonkish, pedantic, and frankly boring. Listening to the last ten minutes of the debate in the car that much was clear. Looking at the outtakes it was even more so.
None of this is surprising. As Bill Maher tweeted, the President really does need that teleprompter. He is a much better speaker than he is a debater. Romney is a CEO who is used to going head to head with people in board rooms. He would be the first PowerPoint president. He is a little bit like Ross Perot but with better hair (I know Romney couldn't use PowerPoint in the debate, but I do wish he had taken a few foam-core charts with him like Perot did). I had this fight with my sweetie the night before the debate. An Ayn Rand loving Econ grad, she nonetheless is fervent in her support for Obama. When I told her I was worried about the debates because Romney is the better debater, she said he only looks that way because of the baboons he was debating in the primary. I disagreed and still do. This was a lot like the way Romney went after Gingrich last fall--another professorial professor. He trounced him. No big surprise.
None of which might mean anything. The first debate usually goes to the challenger. Ronald Regan looked like a dottering old fool against Mondale in their first debate and then blew him away in the second. If the election had been held right after the first Bush/Keary debate, Keary would likely have won. Obama still has the best organization of the two, and still has the benefit of incumbency, but this race is far from over. And that might be, not only the big victoory for Romney, but for the press as well. The narrative has turned against the President. Yesterday afternoon his election was a foregone conclusion. Now Romney is viable again and the press has a horse race. As Scarborough put it last week, they may lean left but mostly the Press leans to the story, and they want the best one. A real race, with real debates, where the polls are close, the issues matter and the attacks are furious is what sells papers and attracts viewers. So maybe it's not so surprising that I so was wrong after all.