A weak showing in the first presidential debate by President Barack Obama allowed GOP challenger Mitt Romney back in the race, and may have been “a historic pivot,” says Tulane University political science professor Thomas Langston.
People watch at Galapagos Art Space in Brooklyn, N.Y., as U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney participate in their first debate on Oct. 3. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
“If conventional wisdom is right, his poor performance and Romney’s good performance in the first debate has changed the narrative,” says Langston
, who has written extensively on the American presidency. “It is leading the small, yet highly valuable set of undecided voters to give Romney another look.”
Langston points to the fact that Romney raised a lot of money since the first debate, most of it from first-time givers, which may mean that some of the questions looming over his candidacy were addressed for those voters.
Even when he was given time to talk directly to the American people, Langston says the president “didn’t offer much.”
“Obama needed to give uncertain voters a forward-looking justification for giving him another four years,” Langston says. “His campaign features the slogan ‘forward,’ but his performance was, I thought, very much backward looking.”
Langston considers the first debate to be typically the most influential, and for that reason he says the president may have a hard time in Tuesday’s (Oct. 16) second debate reversing the gains in the polls made by Romney. While he expects both Romney and Obama to perform well in the town hall format, the forum is not one that is likely to give either a marked advantage.
“Neither one is a Bill Clinton and yet neither one is a George Herbert Walker Bush, who famously was caught looking at his watch during one debate,” Langston says.
Langston says the third debate — with its topic of foreign policy — will offer Obama the best opportunity to win. He doesn’t expect that to impact the election, however.
“I think a foreign policy debate will be very good for him,” Langston says. “But nobody really thinks this election is going to be turned by foreign policy.”