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Experts React to Final Presidential Debate

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney squared off in their final debate Monday. GoLocalWorcester asked Massachusetts experts and opinion makers to weigh in with their thoughts.

Robert Boatright, Associate Professor of Political Science, Clark University:

"Oddly, Romney seemed to have gotten the same sort of message Obama got before the first debate – don’t attack, don’t be aggressive. The strategy worked a little better for Romney, but not much. Obama clearly had Romney on the defensive for the first hour. Romney stopped the bleeding towards the end, but by that point I’m not sure anyone was watching.

"It's hard for the challenger to get better than a draw on foreign policy issues, so if the candidates did lose viewers, that's to Romney's benefit. Once it became evident that the candidates wanted to try to shoehorn awkward points about domestic policy into whatever questions they received, I suspect that the Giants-Cardinals game became more attractive to many viewers."

Grace Ross, Former Candidate for Governor, Progressive Leader and GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™:

"Tonight's debate showed little meaningful distance in their foreign policy positions - Romney was taking both more of a peacemaker approach - citing UN redevelopment principles and the role of women, while also jarringly trying to seem more of a hawk in specific situations. Obama took center stage from when they shook hands onward - as the President and the guy who already has things in hand.

"Romney pointed out the failing economy - but continues to avoid Bush Jr. as if he never existed. But of course, he lays out a huge overspending plan while saying no to taxing those who can afford it. Obama framed Romney's answer well as the apparent financial impossibility that it is, just as on foreign policy he pointed to Romney's wishy-washing his positions at different times - particularly dangerous on foreign policy.

"As they say, the real problem for a politician is when you get painted for exactly what's true of you: that's almost impossible to shake. Obama managed real examples of real Americans while Romney tripped over trying to name real examples.

"Massachusetts knows Romney is completely changeable - does the rest of the country? And what about the Obama we get - is it the seasoned but still passionate candidate from four years ago? Or the guy who struggled to get major stuff done when his party was the majority of both houses of Congress - and he jettisoned key campaign promises?"

Rob Eno, Editor of Red Mass Group and GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™:

"Once again Mitt Romney showed a path for a most prosperous future. Romney was spot on in saying that our debt is one of the largest national security problems we face. The only way to a stronger foreign policy is a strong and prosperous America at home.

"Romney also knows that America must once again be that shining city on a hill, that America must never apologize for our principles, and that America leads best when it leads by example. Romney succesfully made the case that the foreign policy of Barack Obama leads to a less secure, and less free nation at home. The more we are indebted to our enemies monetarily, the less free and less secure we are.

"I expect we will see the trend we've seen over the past three weeks with the aftermath of this debate. Romney will continue to build on his lead, and ride his momentum to the White House."

Morgan Marietta, Assistant Professor of Political Science, UMass-Lowell:

"Both men avoided any major gaffes, but Obama was the more dominant speaker. Romney failed to draw a clear distinction between the two on security in Libya, support for Israel, and a more forceful policy toward Iran.

"The question will be whether this debate will move the polls. Like the second debate, a marginal victory without major headlines may not help Obama's position in the race, leaving it dead even heading into election day."

Mathew Helman, Communications Director of ProgressMass and GoLocalWorcester Guest MINDSETTER™:

"More than two-thirds of Mitt Romney's foreign policy team come straight out of the George W. Bush Administration. That much was clear in Romney's answers during tonight's foreign policy debate.

"If 2013 features a President Mitt Romney, rubber-stamped by a Republican Senator Scott Brown and a right-wing Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, we can be guaranteed to return to the failed foreign policies of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and the neo-cons that got us mired in the Iraq War based on false pretenses."

Srini Sitaraman, Associate Professor of Political Science, Clark University:

"I thought the President did a great job. He came out pretty strong, as he should have as the President and Commander in Chief. He laid out a pretty good agenda.

"He also made Governor Romney agree with him on practically every point. I don't feel like the Governor was able to put any distance between himself and the President, and he sort of tried to switch the points back to domestic issues where he felt that he probably had a better position and a better argument to make.

"I think it's really going to come down to key swing states, and not even the states, it's going to come down to key districts.

"Even though the President's performance was very, very strong, I don't think it's going to move the numbers very dramatically. You're going to see a rather close election." 

Tom Finneran, Former MA Speaker of the House and GoLocalWorcester MINDSETTER™:

"Obama won this debate, although Romney passed every test question with high marks. I give the President the victory based upon three things: a) Body English; b) Pathos; c) The 'Commander in Chief' card.

"It is reported that President Obama played a lot of poker with his State Senate colleagues in Illinois. You could see that experience in his face during Governor Romney’s answers. Obama betrayed no emotion whatsoever other than an intense interest in the answer. It was as if, during debate rehearsals, Obama’s advisors had drilled into him that his facial expressions for 90 minutes would be determinative of whether he gets four more years from the American people. Governor Romney on the other hand licked his lips on a number of occasions and swallowed hard a number of times. To some viewers, that indicates nervousness and anxiety. Advantage-Obama.

"Nobody does pathos better than Obama. Note his answer regarding the four year old girl who lost her father on Sept. 11th, and the sense of closure she expressed to the President upon the killing of Osama. Romney struggles with pathos. Advantage-Obama.

"All Presidents get to play the Commander in Chief card. Obama played this card well in each of the last two debates. Romney certainly passed the tests of credibility and knowledge that all legitimate challengers must meet, but the actual Commander in Chief almost always gets the benefit of the doubt from the American people. Advantage-Obama.
By the way, if Romney should be elected President, he will then control and take advantage of the Commander in Chief card. It goes with the office, not the person.

"The Obama campaign should not get too cocky after tonight. They should not be ordering champagne. Yes, in my opinion, the President won the debate. He has had two good debates in a row. But Romney opened so many eyes with the first debate, and was much more than merely acceptable in the next two.

"Romney very skillfully used several of the questions tonight to circle back to the economy and the grim reality of the past four years. If Romney 'passed the test' regarding foreign policy credibility and simultaneously reminded the American people of the economic miseries they have suffered, then he remains a formidable foe for the President. This race is going down to the wire."


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