So I’d say Mitt Romney got a head start on winning the final month of the campaign. He has a ton of ground to make up, but if he pieces together a lot of performances like tonight, it’ll be competitive.
Romney was clearly having fun, making arguments with passion. Even in the areas where his numbers will get a tough grade from the fact-checkers, he sounded plausible.
Obama, meanwhile, was running out the clock, trying to avoid major screw-ups, hoping not to appear arrogant. But the key for a politician is to do those things without appearing to do this things, and hefailed.
Bottom line? Romney came in hungry, prepared, energetic and he dominated. Wake-up moment for Team Obama? Turning point for Team Romney?
Romney will need to translate last night’s win into some clear momentum in states where he is now lagging by 5% or more.
Most important is Ohio where the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll has the Republican down 8% among likely voters.
Obama, meanwhile, has some days of damage control ahead, and I suspect that this time he won’t be able to rely on surrogates like Bill Clinton and Michelle Obama to lift the energy level of his campaign.
One final thought: John Kerry used a big debate night in 2004 to lift himself into serious contention with George Bush. Romney clearly hoped to do the same.
But as we’ve been reporting, the underlying structural dynamics of this race are very different. In 2004, Kerry could count reliably on winning 250 electoral college votes. His challenge was to close the deal in one or two additional states.
In 2012, Romney can only count with absolute certainty on between 180 and 191 electoral college votes. Even North Carolina remains sort of squidgy (though after last night, I’m guessing it will drift further into Romney’s column).
So Romney has to make closing arguments over the next 30 days in at least a half dozen big and very different states where he currently trails. Very difficult to do, but last night offered his supporters some hope that it might just be doable.