‘Romney wanted to be there; Obama didn’t want to be there,” was the pithy verdict on last week’s presidential debate from James Carville, who helped put Bill Clinton into the White House in 1992. You simply can’t argue with that. Obama seemed frazzled, undernourished and almost disengaged from the policies that are closest to his heart. You wondered if this man actually wanted to win the election. Does he have the stomach for another four years?
Anyone who has died on stage, or flopped in front of a TV audience, will have felt for him. I looked away from the debate, feeling awkward and was rather amazed to hear what sounded like Obama debating Reagan, not Romney – a plausible, slightly folksy voice pushing moderate conservatism. That’s no surprise – Mitt Romney is consciously channelling the last Republican hero and it represents a real danger for Obama.
Much research has been done on the impact presidential debates have on undecided voters. The orthodoxy is that the debates don’t matter very much and that the candidate with a lead in the polls after the first debate, as Obama still has, wins the majority in the electoral college, which means that nothing that happens in the subsequent debates on 16 and 22 October should affect the outcome.