While there is some debate about the victory conditions of the debate, I will go with a rather practical measure of a win. That is, the winner is the person who the most people think is the winner. By this measure, Romney won the debate last night.
The debate was, for the most part, not particularly memorable. Romney did well, Obama did rather less well. However, there were no stinging zingers and there was not much in the way of killer soundbites. Interestingly, Obama declined to use what many pundits regard as his best ammunition against Romney, such as the infamous 47% remarks.
Some of Obama’s defenders have claimed that he was trying to be presidential by not engaging Romney. However, that seems a rather weak defense. Commentators have also pointed to the fact that incumbents generally do not do well in the first debate and the Kerry-Bush debate has been presented as an example of this. Given that a president running for office has two full time jobs (president and presidential candidate) it is not surprising that Obama would be less practiced than Romney and that Obama would be laboring under a greater burden. Perhaps Obama will do a George and come back from a weak first debate to win the election. After all, that is what actually matters.
It is also worth noting that Obama might have had a bad day. Being a competitive athlete and having competed in debate at the high school and college level, I know very well that some days one just does not “have it.” I’ve run races where my legs were flat and I just had no get up and go. I’ve done debates where the words just would not come and my logic was apparently lost in the woods. Weirdly, this has happened when by all rights I should have been doing very well. Even stranger, there have been races where I was running a fever and could barely stand at the start, yet went on to run a really good time (such as a 16:48 in a 5K). Competition can be a strange thing. Next time around, Obama might have a good day and Romney might have a bad one.
One interestingly result of the debate is that Romney’s mention of Big Bird got a great deal of attention, leading to a flurry of activity on Facebook. While Romney’s defenders say that was just a light moment, it has actually stirred up some serious response. On the Romney side, the contention is that Romney wants to cut government waste such as the subsidies provided to PBS . On the other side, the contention is that Romney wants to slash popular public programs to pay for more tax cuts for the wealthy and to free up additional money to be funneled into corporate subsidies.