Second Debate Thoughts

I thought Obama “won” and not by a little.

He managed to both (a) soak up more time while (b) looking good doing it. I went back and watched the VP debate and thought that Biden came across as particularly obnoxious. Romney less than Biden, but Obama better than Romney. Romney looked worse trying and failing to get more time than Obama did getting more time.

I believe that conservative complaints about the selection of undecideds are valid. I don’t smell a conspiracy, just that New York was a particularly bad place for this particular debate. Romney agreed to this, however.

Romney flubbed the Libya questioning in more ways than one (and Obama handled himself well). First, he got specific and was wrong on the specifics. Second, for all the grief Crowley is taking, it was apparent that she was trying to say that his criticism was valid but he was busy talking over her and floundering.

Romney gave some good answers, I thought (even if I wasn’t entirely agreeing), but when he did, Obama would give an even better response. That must have been immensely frustrating.

The post-polls show a closer divide than I would have guessed. However, they seemed to skew a bit Republican in the response. CNN had equal amounts of Republican and Democrat and Obama came out +7. The problem is that Republicans and Democrats are not even. But it’s noteworthy, or seems so, if they are among poll-viewers. CBS showed a similar lead with many more saying it was a tie (37/30/33).

What does this mean for the election? Not sure. Before the last debate, I put Obama’s odds at winning at roughly 80% and thought it was the same after the debate, but the polling fallout brought that number down to 60%. After this, I want to move it back up a bit – to 70% – but I’m going to wait a few days before doing that.

I think what it comes down to is… where did the Romney surge come from. Did it come from Romney doing well and establishing credibility (in which case, I don’t think his performance hurt him because he didn’t do poorly)? Did it come from Obama doing poorly (in which case he should get a bounce)? Or was it not actually the debate at all?

For my own part, the debate actually moved my personal vote slightly towards Romney. As did the previous debate. Odds are still better than even that I will be voting for Johnson. Partially because I live in a secured Romney state and so my vote doesn’t matter as it pertains to the outcome. Also, the third debate is still to come and I suspect that Romney will have less to say to my liking in that one.

Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.


  1. Your scare quotes around “won” are appreciated and well-placed. It’s like even the faintest nod to the idea that that’s a destructively reductive, imprecise, and impossible-to-establish determination to apply to these events has been just unceremoniously dispensed with this cycle. Everyone’s just acting like it’s a real thing. It obscures whatever limited amount of discussion of the issues or clarification of positions go on, and lessens whatever value they’d have for the public.

    That said, I agree. Tonight was a “win” for the president. He’ll need another to win re-election, however.

  2. It’s worth bearing mind when we talk about things like “momentum” and “changing the dynamic” that since well before the conventions, Romney has never been projected to actually win. Very recently there have been a few isolated polls showing him with very narrow leads in the popular vote. But just as many recent polls give Obama narrow leads, too. And as we all know, where those voters are matters a lot. Not once have weighted polling averages put Obama behind in popular vote projections and not once has Romney been forecast to get a majority of votes in the electoral college.

    A knock-it-out-of-the-park hit by Romney against a sleepwalking opponent in the first debate eroded Obama’s comfort zone. This is why I think Will is right to put the word “win” in quotes, not to scare readers but rather to signal that the word may simply lack the robust meaning usually associated with it since Obama has been winning this thing all along, and for most of the time, the question has been one of degree rather than outcome.

    • Obama’s campaign took a pretty significant risk, sending Obama in like that.
      It’s not what someone does who thinks they’ve got this in the bag.

      • If you’re on Team Obama, that’s the right move. You don’t win by sitting on your laurels. You exploit and press your advantages. You neutralize your disadvantages.

        I never said that Romney couldn’t win. I said he’s never been projected to win, I said that Obama’s been actually leading the horse race the whole time. But the only poll that really counts is the one that will take place on November 6.

    • Burt, significantly more of the national polls have been giving Romney a lead than Obama. The only thing that can be said is that (a) most are within the margin of error, (b) the election isn’t happening yet, and (c) the electoral college thing (which gets its own post).

      The question is the extent to which this actually was a change of dynamic or a “second look bounce” as Nate Silver put it. We’re about to find out.

      • Yep, we’ll start seeing useful numbers in about three days. But as I see it, the numbers that count more equally than the others will be those from Ohio and Florida.

        • As I explain in my post, I disagree. It’s more helpful to look at the national picture. The likelihood of the swing states diverging to the point of tilting the election are negligible.

    • I’m not completely sure what you mean by this, but the weighted average by RCP has had Romney in the lead for at least a week or so. And I’m not completely sure about this but I don’t even think that includes his best poll, the USA Today “swing state” poll showing Romney at +4.

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