Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
A not so funny thing happened to President Obama tonight on the way to his re-election, he ran into someone who was much more prepared, primed, and excited. Mitt Romney told the President tonight you may win this contest but I still have real fight left in me. Romney demonstrated a much more intelligent side to his public persona than had been seen in the campaign and a debating style that was better—and much more controlled and thoughtful—than the night he destroyed Gingrich last winter. Romney also had the very good fortune to face a moderator who lost control of the evening early; never followed up specifically with either candidate by throwing their own words back at them; and lobbed in questions like it was batting practice.
Obama looked bored during the debate, inadequately prepared, and lacking in any real passion. For a policy wonk, Obama just had nothing prepared, no details, no facts, and did not even have good anecdotes. He had no fire to go after his adversary and no capacity to challenge Romney with his own words. One had a sense that the President just did not want to bother with all this debate business. Then, when he realized what was happening, he became professorial, deferential, kind, and polite. It was a very strange evening.
Their second meeting on foreign policy undoubtedly will be much sharper and shrill. Presumably, the vice-presidential debate next week could get good and nasty as well. The candidates will now need to raise even more money and the advertising campaign will burst all the previous projected limits. The polls will narrow and their miscues will be even more magnified. While the results on November 6 may still produce an Obama win, it is once again looking like a real nail-biter; but five weeks is a long time to go.
For Michelle and Barack Obama their 20th wedding anniversary will be a night they will wish to forget.