Republican nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama face off in their first debate tonight, beginning at 8 pm central time. I’ve posted a few links related to the presidential race after the jump and will update during and after the debate. I don’t expect any major fireworks or gaffes.
Any comments about the debate or the presidential election in general are are welcome in this thread.
The last couple of weeks of polling have been brutal for Romney. Six months ago the presidential race looked like a toss-up. Now Josh Marshall points out that Obama has polling average leads of at least 5 points in states that add up to 288 electoral votes. Also, the president “has leads of between 2 and 5 percentage points in states totaling an additional 44 electoral votes.”
Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com gives Obama a more than 85 percent chance of winning the election.
Why have things gone sour for Romney, besides the fact that he’s a weak candidate? (I mean, who criticizes the cookies some woman offers you at a photo op?) Jonathan Chait argues that the Republican Party’s image is a big problem.
In our poll-drenched landscape, the most underplayed poll numbers are the public’s continuing preference for the Democratic party. The most recent Washington Post poll has the public looking favorably on the Democratic Party by a 49-42 margin, and unfavorably on the GOP by a 53-39 margin. That 21-point gap in party approval doesn’t tell you everything – it probably hides a lot of disgruntled tea-party conservatives who will ultimately vote for the Republicans – but it tells you a lot.
Today’s NPR poll gets at this dynamic another way. It tests a basic Democratic message (“we tried that top-down approach. More tax cuts for the rich and outsourcing American jobs doesn’t work,” etc.) against a basic Republican message (“His stimulus package failed to create the jobs he said it would, wasted billions of dollars on pork barrel projects at home … “). Fifty-three percent preferred the Democratic argument; 42 percent preferred the Republican argument. […]
Romney’s best hope is to detach himself from his party as best as possible. And here is where the 47 percent video really blocks his exit.
The weak economy was supposed to do most of the work in defeating Obama, but Ben Smith points out that Americans no longer overwhelmingly see the economy in bad shape.
The most dramatic figures come from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, which routinely asks voters about the news they are hearing about the economy. In August of 2011, Americans of all parties said the news was mostly bad, with only minor differences showing between members of different political parties.
A year later, a survey taken in early September found a “record partisan gap.” A full 60% of Republicans said they were hearing “mostly bad” news. Only 15% of Democrats reported the same. And independent voters split on the question, with 36% saying they were hearing mostly bad news.
It’s not just a matter of what voters are hearing. Gallup’s tracking of Americans’ reported confidence in the economy has also seen a dramatic divergence: Democrats’ confidence reached a new high in a survey released September 25; Republicans’ reached a record low.
Both Romney and Obama will talk about their plans to cut the national debt tonight. I wish a journalist would ask the question Joe Weisenthal posed:
As we’ve seen in Europe, attempts at austerity have resulted in a massive economic contraction and social unrest. […]
Furthermore, it’s clear that the US’ large debt poses no threat to financial stability. Borrowing costs as seen in the below chart have been falling for decades, even as the national debt has exploded. […]
As Americans sit at home and worry about the durability of the recovery, which one of you can promise to the American people that they don’t have to worry about austerity under your watch?
It’s sad that no beltway journalist would ever ask the candidates this question, but it’s even more sad that if Romney and Obama did have to answer the question, both would wave the flag for austerity.
UPDATE: I listened to the whole debate but wasn’t watching the screen most of the time, so I can’t comment on the candidates’ body language. I felt the president played it safe and didn’t hurt himself, while Romney was a little more aggressive and helped himself. As a challenger who’s behind in the polls he had no other option, and I don’t think he made any big mistakes.
Viewers who already support or lean toward one candidate probably heard plenty to validate that stance. I don’t see this debate changing a lot of minds.
Many online commentators are saying that Obama looked down too much or was too “low energy.” I often find the president’s speaking style to be “low energy,” so that didn’t jump out at me tonight.
James Carville said on CNN that Obama looked like he didn’t want to be there, while Romney looked like he wanted to be there.
CNN’s time clock indicated that Obama got four more minutes in the debate than Romney did, which surprised me.
SECOND UPDATE: The CNN instant poll of debate viewers found that 67 percent thought Romney won, just 25 percent thought Obama won. About 35 percent of respondents said the debate made them more likely to vote for Romney, 18 percent said more likely to vote for Obama, 47 percent said neither. On who came across as the stronger leader during the debate, Romney led 58 percent to 37 percent.
THIRD UPDATE: This story about a focus group of women reminded me that this Romney line was highly effective:
There was one line from Romney on the topic that seemed to stand out, though. Two different women reiterated Romney’s line to Obama about spending money on green jobs that could have hired teachers: “You put $90 billion into green jobs. And I – look, I’m all in favor of green energy. $90 billion, that would have hired two million teachers. $90 billion.”
Nice sleight of hand there–few people will realize that the way Congress does budgeting, cutting “green jobs” money would never translate directly into hiring 2 million teachers. It’s also ironic to hear Romney sort-of-advocate increasing federal funding for teachers, because like all the other Republicans, he opposed the stimulus money that saved many teaching positions.
FOURTH UPDATE: A CBS News poll of 523 uncommitted voters found that 46 percent thought Romney won the debate, 22 percent thought Obama won, and 32 percent said they tied.
Commenting on the CNN poll, Cameron Joseph noted,
CNN’s poll sample skewed Republican compared to most registered voter polls, which likely inflated Romney’s numbers.
FIFTH UPDATE: Dana Bash wrote an interesting piece about Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who has been playing Obama during Romney’s debate prep. Portman also played Obama during John McCain’s debate prep in 2008.
Since 2000, he has played the roles of Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards and Barack Obama. […]
Portman said he spends hours reading, studying and watching everything he can get his hands on to best embody Democrats and to prepare Republicans for debates.
Though he declined to portray his Obama imitation, those who have seen it say it is uncanny. […]
Portman remembers preparing to play Al Gore in mock debates with George W. Bush during the 2000 campaign, and noticing that Gore got unusually physically close to his opponent, Bill Bradley.
So Portman, acting as Gore, invaded Bush’s personal space during rehearsal.
“Governor Bush’s reaction was, ‘He is not going to do that, that is ridiculous,’ and sure enough in that last debate, which was the one we were prepping for, Al Gore did just that. I saw Governor Bush smile. I wonder if he was smiling saying ‘Darn, Portman was right’ or if he was just smiling at Al Gore, but he handled it well,” Portman recalled.
Speaking to Laurence O’Donnell on MSNBC after the debate, Portman said he thought Romney “did what he needed to do” and predicted that Obama will improve his performance in the second debate because of the different format.
SIXTH UPDATE: Smart Politics has more details on the speaking time for Obama, Romney, and moderator Jim Lehrer, who did a horrible job in my opinion.
NPR’s Mark Memmott and Scott Montgomery summarized the first wave of fact-checks on the debate.
SEVENTH UPDATE: I’ve talked to a bunch of rank-and-file Democrats today who are deeply concerned about Obama’s debate performance. Interestingly, a couple of them said that their friend or spouse who only listened to the debate, like I did, also didn’t feel Obama did that badly. His body language must have been atrocious.
The Obama campaign has a television commercial out today with debate footage, followed by fact-checking on Romney’s tax plan.
Obama’s voice: I’m Barack Obama, and I approve this message. [photo of Obama sitting at president’s desk, talking with someone on the phone and holding a piece of paper]
Black screen with words PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE DENVER, COLORADO OCTOBER 3, 2012
Footage of Romney speaking: I’m not in favor of a 5 trillion-dollar tax cut. That’s not my plan.
Footage of NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell reporting from Denver after the debate, with “The Truth Squad” on screen: The non-partisan Tax Policy Center concluded that Mitt Romney’s tax plan would cost $4.8 trillion over ten years.
Male voice-over: Why won’t Romney level with us about his tax plan, which gives the wealthy huge new tax breaks? [Footage of Romney speaking from a podium, words on screen Why won’t Romney level with us?]
Because according to experts, he’d have to raise taxes on the middle class or increase the deficit to pay for it. [footage from the debate, Romney speaking and looking at the president, words on screen THE WALL STREET JOURNAL 8/1/12 Study: Romney’s Tax Plan Hits Middle Class, changing to “Tax Policy Center concluded that Romney’s tax plan would cost $4.8 trillion” NBC News 10/3/12]
If we can’t trust him here, [view of Obama and Romney standing behind podiums at debate]
how can we ever trust him here? [view of president’s desk in Oval Office, words on screen HOW CAN WE TRUST MITT ROMNEY?]
Romney did lie a lot during the debate, including about his tax plan. I don’t know how many people pay attention to fact-checking, though.
I wonder whether NBC News will demand that the Obama campaign remove the Andrea Mitchell footage from television commercials.
FINAL UPDATE: Yes, NBC did ask the Obama campaign to remove that footage from its commercial.
The first Romney-Obama debate reached more than 70 million viewers, according to Nielsen estimates.
Nielsen, a television measurement company, said 67.2 million viewers watched on television at home – the highest number for a first debate since 1980. That year, 80.6 million watched the only debate between President Jimmy Carter and the Republican presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan.
A few second- and third-round presidential debates since then have attracted more than 67 million viewers, including the second debate of the 1992 cycle. Nonetheless, Wednesday’s totals were surprisingly high by almost any standard. […]
Nielsen’s total for Wednesday’s debate did not count people who watched outside the home (in offices, bars or airports) or who watched in other countries. Nor did not count any of the millions of people who had access to the debate on computers, tablets or phones. CNN.com, for instance, said it recorded 1.2 million live streams of its debate coverage around the world. YouTube, the Web video giant, said its partners had “millions of live-streamed views of the debates,” but declined to release specific numbers.
Of the 11 traditional channels that televised the debate and subscribed to Nielsen ratings, ABC was the most-watched, with almost 11.3 million viewers during the commercial-free debate, Nielsen said. NBC and CBS were close behind, with 11.1 million for NBC and 10.6 million for CBS.
Fox News Channel was as big as any broadcaster, with about 10.4 million viewers during the debate (up from 8.2 million in 2008 and 9.6 million in 2004). The Fox broadcast network attracted about 6.9 million; CNN, 6 million; and MSNBC, 4.7 million. (Fox News, MSNBC and CNN all skew toward older viewers, but interestingly, CNN had a surge of 18- to 34-year-old viewers for the debate – nearly 1.5 million, versus 882,000 for Fox News and 772,000 for MSNBC.)
More than 2.6 million Spanish-language viewers watched on Univision, and another 248,000 watched on Telemundo, according to Nielsen. (Telemundo showed the debate on a tape delay.) The lowest-rated of all the channels with the face-off was Current TV, Al Gore’s fledgling liberal cable channel, which had about 100,000 viewers.