I guess it all comes down to expectations. Clearly Ed Schultz and Chris Matthews expected President Obama to nail Governor Romney to the wall over the 47% tape (BTW guys, that's what political ads are for). So they are despondent tonight. Romney was on the attack all night. Instead, Obama was his usual calm, cool self.
Republicans are absolutely thrilled tonight. For months – perhaps years – they have been looking forward to the day when Obama would have to stand in one place and be told that he is a failed president. That's why the empty chair was such a hit among Republicans. The problem for the GOP these days is that what appeals to them most of the time doesn't appeal to the general electorate.
What happened tonight was simply two strategies. Romney is behind and he needed to come out swinging. That is what he did. Obama is ahead. He is playing the long game. He stayed presidential. Calm. Likable. Obama never gets dirty. He lets others do they dirty work. That's how he maintains his likability.
It was a a very low key debate. No gaffes by either candidates. Jim Lehrer lost control and there was a lot of back and forth about tax proposals. Sometimes it's hard for political junkies like me to step back and realize that the vast majority of voters are not familiar with all the ins and outs of the candidates' various policy positions. I believe for most of the debate the audience was bored and did not follow the details.
I do not believe that this debate fundamentally changed the race. Romney is behind in the polls mostly because of women and Latino voters. I do not see that he has done anything tonight to close the gap with said voters. Nevertheless, this was a great night for Romney after three very bad weeks.
All along Obama has pursued a re-election strategy that consists of winning various groups by certain margins. He has announced very targeted policies including supporting same sex marriage, deferred action for DREAMERS, veterans jobs initiatives and health care policies that appeal to women. Brick by brick he has been building his road back to the White House. Nothing happened tonight to put Obama's strategy at risk.
For the next encounter, Obama needs to raise his energy level and look into the camera during the closing statement. I still do not expect Obama to be very aggressive or try to nail Romney to the wall. As a black man, he cannot afford to come across as angry or threatening. It has been his very cool demeanor that has shielded him from the constant attempts by the likes of Hannity to portray Obama as another Malcom X filled with racial resentment.
Romney, on the other hand, has to work on his off camera demeanor. He still has that weird smile and tilt of the head. He also speaks very fast. I expect him to continue to be aggressive. He needs for Obama to have a "oops" moment a la Rick Perry.
Next up the vice presidential candidates. The likelihood of a gaffe is pretty high with Biden. It should be entertaining.
In case you missed the first presidential debate, here is the full video: