Who Won Presidential Debate 2012: Why Barack Obama Won the Presidential Debate


President Obama was obviously wary entering the first debate. We all saw the result: a debate which 51% of voters believed was a shoe-in for Obama turned into an obvious loss. The president's cautious strategy backfired disastrously, and, depending on whom you ask, he came across as old, tired, desperate, or ill-prepared. At times it appeared as if he thought the debate was a waste of his time.

On the other hand, Romney's latest firmware upgrade was a surprising success. At times erratic, featuring spasmodic gesticulations and half-verbalized thoughts, he was nonetheless more overwhelmingly enthusiastic and seemingly alive than in his previous appearances. If he can keep up his current rate of character and policy evolution, the former governor might find a combination of policies and emotions translatable into an electoral victory. 


Tonight's debate, airing at 9 PM from Hofstra University in Long Island, NY and moderated by Candy Crowley of CNN, will be the second time these two men will clash publicly in the campaign. This time around, it will be a 'town hall' style debate, with carefully screened citizens pitching questions to the United States' next President. Tonight's discussion will be more fluid... and anything can happen.

Conventional wisdom says that the debates do not affect the outcome of an ongoing presidential race. But the Republican primary debates this year proved decisive in selecting the eventual nominee, and it's hard to recall a more vicious back-and-forth than last week's Biden-Ryan debate on the national stage. The victory still really depends on whom you're asking, though. The Pew Research Center revealed that 88% of Republicans and 89% of Democrats thought their respective candidate was the man of the hour.

That’s all well and good, and probably to be predicted in one of the most partisan contests in history. A far worse obstacle for the president than winning over an obstinate Republican voter base, is that 50% of this election's aqua vitae (independent voters) said Ryan did better, opposed to 39% for Biden. This is far from a disaster, but it is a strong sign that the Obama campaign is lagging behind expectations and failing to win over crucial swing votes. Tuesday night's debate will be crucial in providing voters with a clear choice between two competing visions of the future. This raises the stakes for Obama to make a strong showing and more aggressively counter Romney's combined strategy of disorienting segues and straight-up lies

As reporter Paul Stanley notes, the president has to be aggressive, but not too aggressive. Obama has to clearly construct a narrative which focuses on his vision for America's future rather than engage in a point-by-point competition with Romney, a battle which the last debate clearly demonstrated is both exhausting and pointless. Despite calls for Obama to call Romney a liar outright, the smart money is on Obama using his time to clearly establish how things have improved under his tenure and how they will continue to improve. He needs to focus on his vision for the country.

Now that the unemployment rate has dropped below 7.8%, expect Obama to assertively challenge Romney on economic issues and attempt to refocus voters on jobs and employment, issues where the two candidates share a razor thin approval margin of 39% and 38% respectively. Conservatives have ranged from denouncing the jobs report as a fraud to lying about the results, and now Romney will likely resort to the current party line, downplaying the significance of the results entirely.

An emboldened Romney will probably take a risk and try to salvage the Ryan attack line on the Obama administration’s handling of the Libyan embassy assault, as well as try to paint the president as weak on terror. However, doing that in speeches and by proxy is one thing; doing it to the man who killed Osama bin Laden to his face on live TV is another.

Do not expect Romney to tone down his confidence, or his gleeful swings at the president. He drew blood in the first round and proved that bellicose tactics could throw Obama off guard. The president’s complacency has no doubt been shaken, and he can no longer afford to play the rope-a-dope strategy. He knows this, and that is why he has adopted a more forceful posture in recent campaign stops.

We’re looking at an amped-up Romney versus an Obama who can’t sustain a major blow and badly needs to establish a competing narrative which captures the energy, vigor, and positive momentum of his 2008 campaign. All of this will go down in a town hall style debate, a notoriously difficult and unpredictable format. 

Obama has a difficult task ahead of him, but if he can seize the moment it is not too late for the president to repair the damage of a week of bad press and edge back on Romney's growing advantage amongst independents.

Predictions: An against-the-odds but minor Obama upset and moderate improvements in Obama’s poll showings amongst independents, with neither candidate giving up an inch of ground.

PolicyMic will be covering the presidential debate live. For live updates bookmark and refresh this page.


12:05 AM: Okay, couldn't resist tossing in this priceless video of Mitt Romney saying he "won't create jobs that kill people."

10:40 PM: Final observation; doesn't Mitt Romney's claim that government doesn't create jobs run completely counter to his claim that as head of government he can create jobs? 


10:38 PM: Obama's closing remarks are essentially: I think Mitt Romney's a good guy at heart, but look at all these specific, electorally important demographic groups he's screwing over!"

10:37 PM: "I believe that the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity that this world has ever known." - Barack Obama

10:36 PM: "If I become President, I will get America working again." - Mitt Romney

10:34 PM: "Government does not create jobs. Government does not create jobs!" - Mitt Romney, the man running to be the head of the government.

10:33 PM: "How much time do we have, Candy?" - The President, deliberately psyching out Mitt Romney during his closing statement.

10:31 PM: Obama accusing Romney of investing in "pioneers of outsourcing. That's not my phrase. That's what reporters call it."

10:29 PM: In a somewhat confusing segue, Romney just announced getting in a tariff battle with China is integral to his job-creation strategy.

10:27 PM: The Republican focus on Chinese currency manipulations is wrongheaded. Who owns all of our debt, again?

10:25 PM: The Boston Globe claims that despite his "binders of women" rhetoric, there were no female partners at Romney's Bain Capital.

10:24 PM: Mitt Romney claims to be capable of breaking the gridlock in Washington, points to his bi-partisan gun control bill. Obama points out that Romney's on the record as pandering to the influence of the National Rifle Association, and ties gun control into education. Smart.

10:21 PM: Oh, my god. I can't believe Romney decided to go after Fast & Furious conspiracy theories.

10:20 PM: Romney's plan for reducing gun violence is to "end the culture of violence." 

10:15 PM: "The suggestion that anybody on my team... would play politics or mislead, when we lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive... that's not what I do. That's not what we do."

"It took the President 14 days until he called it an Act of Terror."

10:13 PM: On the debate over national security issues:

10:10 PM: Obama just dodged the "why did it happen" question on the Libyan Embassy attacks, focusing instead on his response. He's been coached for this question and knows exactly how to turn it around on Romney. "You don't turn national security into a political issue. Certainly not right when it's happening!"

10:06 PM: "My pension's not as big as yours." Sick burn from Obama!

10:05 PM: Crowley just challenged Romney to explain the concept of voluntary deportation, which should be fun.

10:03 PM: I think this sums up Romney's attempt to associate himself with small business:

9:59 PM: Mitt Romney just touted "my Dad was born in Mexico" and "my wife's father is from Wales" as part of his immigration bona fides.

9:56 PM: AWW YEAH! Romney is bringing us back to the Reagan years.

9:54 PM: "He said by now, unemployment would be at 5.4%... I wasn't the one who said 5.4%." Romney appears to be regaining his composure. "Unemployment has not been reduced in this country."

9:51 PM: Obama is listing all the ways in which Mitt Romney would be worse than George Bush, and calls him a right-wing extremist on social policy. Bold.

9:50 PM: "Governor, you're the last person who's going to get tough on China!" Obama is more aggressive than expected, and did he just accuse Romney of pioneering investment in companies outsourcing to China? 

9:49 PM: "Our party has been focused on large business for too long." "I started a small business." - Mitt Romney, a former corporate buyout specialist, trying to brand himself as the "small business" guy. I may be wrong, but I don't believe anyone is buying this.

9:46 PM: "President Bush and I are different people. And these are different times. And that's why my five point plan is different from what George Bush would have done." - Mitt Romney, going with the teleological argument!

9:42 PM: The Onion is spot on (and boy, quick!) with this headline: Romney Tells Heartbreaking Lie About Single Mother of 4 He Never Met

9:39 PM: Obama going directly after the female vote: he understands that women are increasingly the "breadwinners" of the family. On the other hand, I just noticed how sleek Mitt Romney's suit is.

9:36 PM: Mitt Romney does NOT like being accused of being bad at math. Crowley touched a nerve!

9:34 PM: Obama's strategy of attacking Romney not as too conservative for America, but lacking specifics for his ideas is highly effective. The President is toeing the line between blatantly accusing Romney of lying and challenging him to back up his proposals very, very well.

9:29 PM: Mitt Romney promises to never raise taxes on the middle class - a promise which Anderson Cooper claims is mathematically impossible with his proposed budget. Romney is still dodging specifics.

9:23 PM: Mitt is so flustered he just got in a sparring match with the moderator over the rules. This is not going well for the Governor:

9:21 PM: Obama appears light years ahead of Romney on energy policy. Mitt Romney is obviously flustered by an unexpectedly forceful pushback from the President.

9:18 PM: "Not true, Governor Romney!" Dang, the President is on fire tonight.

9:18 PM: Mitt Romney promises energy independence in just a few years. Obama points out that while Romney was Governor, he accused a coal plant of killing people.

9:15 PM: Preemptively calling Mitt Romney's outrageous story of government regulation quashing a source of new oil for '14-16 dead birds' as a lie.

9:14 PM: "In the middle of the next decade, any car you buy will go twice as long on the same tank of gas." Obama accuses Romney of being in the pocket of big oil and gas, with no plans for green energy.

9:08 PM: "We have fewer jobs today than when the President took office." Blatant lie, quickly countered by clarifying he meant the employment rate is even at 7.8%. Don't give Romney the benefit of the doubt on this one - he has made the same claim repeatedly before.

9:06 PM: Obama brings up "let Detroit go bankrupt," points at questioner repeatedly.

9:03 PM: Mitt Romney: "I want you people to be able to get a job!" "Less debt, more jobs." Also promises to hire a college graduate.

9:02 PM: WE ARE OFF. Look at all the focused striding!

9:01 PM: Puzzled why pre-debate analysis keeps fixating on the battery company bankruptcy, which seems like a curious topic for two men vying for the leadership of the free world to bicker over.

8:53 PM: Moderator Candy Crowley's suspected intent to flout debate rules has members of both parties frustrated.

8:50 PM: Dick Durbin says Democrats "would much rather" be in Obama's position than Mitt Romney's. Preemptively brings up how the candidates will need to behave themselves and respect the role of the questioners- odd, unless he expects Mitt Romney to interrupt one of the citizens.

8:45 PM: Marco Rubio claims Mitt Romney agrees with "mainstream Americans" that the role of government is to create an environment which fosters jobs, rather than go out there and create jobs directly. He also claims that Obama will face backlash among Latinos for portraying Mitt Romney as out-of-touch.

HuffPo claims 44% Latino support for Mitt Romney in Florida, tightening the odds in that state.

8:37 PM: The WSJ live stream folks are discussing the terrifying possibility of a 50/50 electoral college split, leaving the decision of the next President up to the House of Representatives.

Mitt Romney looks enthusiastic and a little unhinged:

8:16 PM: ThinkProgress has a list of 27 misleading statements Mitt Romney made in thirty-eight minutes at the last debate. Meanwhile, USA today reports women are trending towards Romney.

These are very bad numbers for Obama: a smart move would be to cater towards female voters tonight and remind them of Romney's poor record on women's issues.

8:15 PM: Heavyweight analysts at The Onion weigh in.

7:42 PM: Watch out, Obama! Ross Perot (anagram: short poser) just endorsed 'living legend' Mitt Romney. I wonder how that will affect the influential conspiracy theorist and gold standard lobbies.

7:40 PM: Okay, we're about to ramp it up here. T-Minus 1 hour, 20 minutes to the debate. The President apparently feels (and looks, I might add) fabulous. Taking bets on whether Obama will wear the red tie tonight, at approximately 1,000:1 payoff.

NPR's Frank James will be holding a live discussion with viewers, beginning at 8:30 PM EST. It's Frank James, people!

7:15 PM: Just got an email from Michelle Obama subj: "What Are You Doing Tonight?" Someone at the Obama campaign is making simply scurrilous choices.

7:05 PM: A lot of eyes on the candidates tonight, though we probably won't be seeing record viewership.

Great photo of John Kerry hitting the spin room by maddie_marshall.

6:52 PM: Leaked streaming video of Paul Ryan faking his way through that ill-fated soup kitchen photo op: Ouch.

6:49 PM: A friend complains how unfair it is that we don't get to see Obama debate Newt Gingrich.

6:48 PM: Check out these terrifying (for the President) margins over at RealClearPolitics: Romney is now up 47.4% to Obama's 47%. Gallup suggests a wider lead, with Romney leading 50% to Obama's 46%.

This is a do or die moment for the President.

6:37 PM: Allison Hope at HuffPo is thankful for the silence surrounding LGBT issues in the debates. If Obama mentions gay marriage tonight, I'd be stunned. If someone manages to convince Mitt to mention gay marriage tonight, well, there's a bridge out in San Francisco I'd like to sell him. (He can afford it.)

6:20 PM: Eric Wemple at the Post rightly points out that we're unlikely to see a question about the United State's widespread deployment of drones, because the two candidates share the exact same position on their utilization: that they are a "standard and unquestioned resource in the U.S. fight against extremism and terrorism."

Another reminder that despite all the free speech and freedom of opinion we have in this country, policies relating to security and American military/economic power projection are rarely questioned inside the Beltway, Congress, or White House.

5:55 PM: Obama spokesperson Jen Psaki stressing that the President, not Hillary Clinton, accepts responsibility for the attacks on the Libyan embassy:

“She said exactly what the Vice President said last week, which is you know he wasn’t aware of the request, neither was the President,” Psaki said. “It’s pretty common knowledge that these decisions are made at the State Department. That doesn’t change the fact that the President takes absolute responsibility for the safety and security of diplomats serving abroad and that’s why he wants to get to the bottom of this more than anybody.”

Take this as a sign that the Obama camp is willing to play offense on the Libya attacks, and expects Romney to make it a focus of the debate. If Obama directly accuses Romney of politicizing the tragic death of U.S. State Department employees in the line of duty, take two shots.

5:30 PM: #obamadebatetips is trending on Twitter. Taking bets on which is more likely:

4:25 PM: For those who missed it, Time's Mark Halperin leaked an agreement between the Obama-Romney campaigns to obey certain 'rules' during tonight's debate. Among the most ludicrous:

"The candidates may not ask each other direct questions during any of the four debates." For the October 16 town-hall-style debate, "the moderator will not ask follow-up questions or comment on either the questions asked by the audience or the answers of the candidates during the debate...." "No candidate may reference or cite any specific individual sitting in a debate audience (other than family members) at any time during a debate."

Considering one of the rules seems to be 'no reaction shots of candidates not currently answering questions during the debate,' and last week's Biden-Ryan slugfest, I'd take these rules with a grain of salt.

4:20 PM: In another astounding blunder by the Romney campaign, Paul Ryan's bizarre empty-soup-kitchen photo op wasn't even granted permission by the charity's manager. From Yahoo:

"The photo op they did wasn't even accurate," Antal continued. "He did nothing. He just came in here to get his picture taken at the dining hall."

In case you missed it, Ryan couldn't even be bothered to clean dirty dishes, instead scrubbing some clean ones. One wonders whether to blame this on Ryan or poor handling by his staff, though Salon's Marie Myung-Ok Lee scores the best zinger:  "buff gym rat Paul Ryan rolls up his sleeves washes a pan à la Marie Antoinette doing the grunt work of herding sheep...Jesus washed people’s feet to show his humility and service. Ryan washes a pan that’s already clean and calls it work."

Now that is a burn!

4:10 PM: Ezra Klein at the Post notes that Mitt Romney is using misleading numbers yet again to... substantiate a claim that he can create 12 million jobs in 4 years, which is of course the amount of jobs the recovery is due to add anyhow. Key quote:

"...rather than say their goal wasn’t actually that ambitious, and they simply planned to not mess anything up, the Romney campaign tried to make it sound ambitious by misusing a bunch of studies."

Wonder if Obama is going to comment on how Romney's job creation target is already well within the boundaries of the jobs Obama is slated to add. Doubtful.

3:58 PM: Nate Silver at Five Thirty Eight crunches the numbers and finds strong evidence Obama is due for a rebound, as well as outlines how the second debate is as important in snatching up voters than the first. The President must be sweating.

3:51 PM: Complex Tech highlights what appears to be an Obama-funded site promising a concise explanation of Romney's tax plan. If you're still confused about the Romney plan, you should go check it out.