Foreign policy was the topic, and both candidates early on spoke to the seriousness of threats facing the United States. Not surprisingly, Governor Romney used the first question to talk about the Administration’s handling of the events in Benghazi, while the president quickly noted policy successes; e.g. ending the war in Iraq, killing Osama Bin Laden.
On the second question, Romney argued his general approach is to get the “bad guys.” Obama used his time to go on the offensive, telling Governor Romney, “The 1980s are calling to get their foreign policy back” and “You have not been in a position to execute foreign policy.”
On some issues, it was difficult to discern policy differences between the candidates.
On Syria, President Obama talked about helping “moderates” while Governor Romney spoke of working with “responsible parties.”
On Egypt, Romney spoke of recognizing earlier on the growing revolt in the Middle East, but in the end agreed with the Administration’s cautious approach to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
On Iran, Romney spoke of “crippling sanctions,” which are currently in effect, but that such sanctions should have been in place earlier.
Shortly after 8:30 CST, the debate shifted entirely to domestic issues, with arguments about the deficit, tax cuts for the wealthy, investing in education, Romney’s record in Massachusetts, and jobs. Apparently all of our foreign policy issues were resolved (I’m glad I missed the Bears game to watch a repeat of the second debate).
On the size of the military, the president was as harsh as he has been in any of the debates, suggesting that Romney’s approach to military expansion is akin to “a game of battleship.”
The physical intimidation we saw in the second debate was absent, but the tone was no less aggressive. If the president’s assertiveness from the last two debates had been present in the first debate, my guess is we would be speculating about forgone opportunities for Governor Romney.
But, the first debate set the narrative for the month of October: the president has a serious fight on his hands and this election will be competitive and the outcome will be close.
As a final observation, this was the president’s strongest performance. But does it matter?
If you are in the Obama camp, your best hopes for November 6 are that undecided voters are subject to “recency effects” (that information presented later on is recalled more accurately than earlier information). You also hope this applies to the ever-shrinking portion of the electorate that hasn’t voted.
For the Romney campaign, your hope is that such voters are subject to “primacy effects” (that their decision on Election Day is based on remembering earlier campaign moments; i.e. the first debate).
At 9:35 p.m. CST I fired up the DVR: Go Bears!
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This post was written by Chris Larimer on October 22, 2012