Winner: Mitt Romney
Scores: Romney 77 | Obama 75
Judge: Neill Harvey-Smith
I score it a narrow win to Mitt Romney, whose superior manner and improving confidence edged a disappointing debate. This is a debate that Obama supporters will think Obama won and Romney supporters will feel that Romney won.
Romney appeared to have set himself a limited aim: to sound competent, knowledgeable and tight to the President on the issues. He was happy to admit “underscoring the point the President made” on Israel, associating himself closely. But he suffered from the clumsy stumbling through unfamiliar vocabulary we often witness in freshman debaters arguing beyond the boundaries of their knowledge. Early on, he adopted a calm, TV studio manner, which helped Romney defuse aggressive attacks on him by Obama: “attacking me is not a solution”. And having done that, he was able to return to key messages on the economy and military spending. His theme throughout was a mixture of dealing with the causes and effects of extremism.
Obama started strongly on Libya. Romney mysteriously chose to pivot the question to congratulating Obama on Osama Bin Laden, and the President seized the opportunity to tell a story of decisive action, placing himself as the hero. Having grabbed this gift, Obama went on the offensive throughout the debate, attacking Romney repeatedly throughout the debate for changing his positions over recent months. At one point, Obama was heckling Romney on his record on education in his state, a peculiar place to reach and a strange reversal of roles for a President and challenger. The harder Obama attacked and less respectful his tone, the more confident and composed Romney appeared.
On the content and quality of arguments there was little to separate them. The candidates clashed on facts more than arguments, and preferred fending off attacks with “that’s not true” and “people will look it up” rather than rebutting specific claims. One exception was Iran, where Obama defended his record, then Romney challenged him specifically on his “apology” for past American action. It was a rare moment. This was a debate to be missed.