By Nick Temple
The 2012 Presidential debates—three in all—have now come and gone. Here’s a quick round-up of the high- (and low-) lights:
Debate 1 (Oct. 3): Domestic Policy Moderator: PBS’ Jim Lehrer
A disastrous night for Team Obama. Coming off a series of unforced errors on the campaign trail and his lackluster performance in the Republican primary debates, Mr. Romney wasn’t expected to be much of a challenge for the president. Instead, he looked sharp, focus and prepared against an incumbent who seemed listless and badly out of his element.
Moderator Lehrer caught significant criticism for failing to keep the debate at an even keel, but home audiences didn’t seem to mind. Americans gave the debate to Mr. Romney by a 2-to-1 margin, and the former governor saw a 6-point national polling deficit shape into a statistical dead heat.
Debate 2 (Oct. 16): Town Hall Debate—Domestic & Foreign Policy Moderator: CNN’s Candy Crowley
If performances in the first debate exceeded expectations, those in the 2012 town hall debate—a typically tame and uneventful format—ignored them entirely. A reinvigorated President Obama and hot-streaking Mr. Romney arrived atHofstraUniversityready for war, and it showed in their demeanor.
Both candidates were combative from the first, with plenty of back-and-forth throughout the night. President Obama’s open anger during discussion of theBenghaziconsulate attack—which Gov. Romney accused him of downplaying both out on the campaign trail and during the debate—was a strong moment for the incumbent, and gave him the edge for the night. Coupled with VP Joe Biden’s performance in his debate with Republican veep pick Paul Ryan, Debate 2 seemed to stop Obama’s bleeding in the national polls.
Debate 3 (Oct. 22): Foreign Policy Moderator: CBS’ Bob Schieffer
The final debate between the two candidates was, arguably, both the most important and least-watched of the three. While the American president holds more direct sway over national foreign policy than any other area, the American electorate typically doesn’t pay much attention to the nation’s overseas actions. To worsen matters, Debate 3 aired during Monday Night Football and Game 1 of the 2012 World Series; nearly 8 million fewer viewers tuned in for the last go-round than had for the first.
The night held little opportunity for either men: Gov. Romney has struggled to differentiate himself from President Obama on foreign policy issues, and Obama was unlikely to convert many yet-undecideds on foreign policy alone. In the end, the viewing public gave Obama a nothing mark in the win column—albeit by a much narrower margin than he’d enjoyed a week prior.
Debate performances make for great political theater, but that’s all they are. November 6 will the real test of both candidates’ mettle, when America will choose its next president.