On the Agenda: Game-changing first presidential debate and its effect on Texas elections
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Last Tuesday, the battleground state polls were swinging so hard for President Obama, the election looked like it was all but over.
Of course, political professionals knew better.
Within hours, Mitt Romney’s take-it-to the President debate performance galvanized Republicans and earned the former Massachusetts governor a serious second look from both undecided and persuadable fence sitting voters.
On the substance, Romney softened his positions considerably and, in fact, abandoned his self described “severely conservative” primary mantra.
But the staggering 65 million TV viewers don’t know or care about the minutia of policy. They saw a likeable, confident and engaging combatant square off against a relatively lethargic opponent.
For a year now, Romney has been fearlessly mixing it up in debates and town hall meetings. In contrast, it was clear that an insulated president has at least temporarily lost his debate mojo.
Mr. Obama had his moments, but he fell into a fatal incumbent’s trap of listlessly listing an inventory of programs enacted by the administration. Debates are not about lists. They are about big brush strokes, grand visions and challenging your opponent’s fundamental assumptions.
But remember, the presidential election is still only about moving a few million voters in seven or eight swing states.
Just as importantly the fallout of the debate reaches way beyond the presidency. Last week, Obama’s post-convention bounce coat tails were translating into the likelihood of Democrats holding the Senate and making surprising gains in the House. Now, that Democratic momentum is at least temporarily blunted.
Back here at home, Democratic enthusiasm was crucial to any hope for Democratic Senator Wendy Davis re-election in a Republican leaning district.
Most pros think Democrats are going to gain a half-dozen seats in the Texas House, but if their base was enthusiastic, that could maybe jump to a gain of ten—still no threat to the huge Republican majority, but an incremental improvement. Absent Democratic enthusiasm, those hopes evaporate.
In the meantime, there are miles to go in this election.
Historically debates only affect elections on the margins, and President Obama may sharpen his game in the next two debates.
Regardless, the presidential woke up the country, re-ignited Republican enthusiasm and reminded us that candidate Romney is a serious force with which to be reckoned.
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