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Winner? Obama by TKO, but Romney still strong

President Barack Obama seemed to finally figure out what to do in a debate—to assert and negate, in essence to clash and cross swords with Governor Mitt Romney on any issue on the table.

As a result, the second debate was far from the steamroller for Romney as in the first debate.

I expected the town hall format to be a tad more folksy and interactive. But the crowd of undecided voters assembled at Hofstra University were just props in the middle of a real fight between Obama and Romney. Both came out ready, asserting and countering even outside the rigid debate format. It created a challenge for the moderator Candy Crowley, who did an admirable job keeping decorum and keeping the debaters on point, at one time correcting Romney on Obama’s response on Libya, the feistiest moment of the debate.

But to me, while Romney seemed to be level with his last performance, the president’s more energized approach left the lasting overall impression that his performance on this night was greater than Romney’s—maybe even enough to erase the memory of the president’s  first debate lapse. Perhaps for his base. As for undecideds, that’s not so clear.

From the very first question, the style and substance of both was apparent. To the Adelphi student who asked if he would have a job on graduation, Romney had the empathy, but no real plan. Obama came out with an answer that was like a microscosm of the whole debate, including the goal of creaing high-paying manufacturing jobs, a jab in about Romney’s Detroit stand,  tax code revisions, business incentives, energy plans.

In the same two-minute answer, Obama scored his highest response from CNN focus group members with this line:

“We got to make sure we have the best education system in the world, and the fact that you’re going to college is great. But I want everybody to have a great education and we’ve worked hard that student loans are available for folks like you.”

The only negatives for me in the debate came when the combatants crossed the line, turning the civility of parry and riposte into a street brawl. I kept wondering if any of this was scoring with the demographic of choice in this campaign, women.

There were times Obama was clearly getting under Romney’s skin. One point Romney turned to engage Obama on an issue, but instead of taking the bait, the president merely looked at Romney and said in a dismissive tone, “Go on.”

That’s the way to use your status.

Other issues: Romney tried to attack Obama on immigration. But Romney had no response when Obama pointed out that Romney’s key immigration advisor is the author of Arizona’s “Show me your papers” law.

Still, I didn’t see any real knockout blow in this debate. Overall, I’d say Obama won on points in O/R II.

But because Obama played rope-a-dope in O/R I , the race is still closer than it should be.

To all you Mittwagoners: Romney was good on camera in the first presidential debate, but what about the hidden camera truth?

I’d love to have a hidden camera on Romney this morning to see how he’s reacting to his performance last night.

Do you think he’s high-fiving Ann? 

Last night was showbiz for Romney. Make no mistake it was a performance, and he was on his game. But was it the truth, the real Romney?

Re-watching parts of the debate this morning, it’s amazing how Obama didn’t seem to have a sense of what game he was playing, as if he were waiting for Romney to be deferential. Debates are about clash, contrasts, and Obama didn’t engage sharply enough. He acted like it was a photo op and not a debate.

Debates are also evanescent, real time events. You’VE got to call your opponent on the spot and press. You can’t rely on fact-checking later to get back. It’s all face value, because the bond with viewer/voters is made emotionally on the impression you give off. So as a debater, you’re either there or you’re not. And Obama wasn’t there. Romney was.

I had mentioned that affirmative action could have been an issue that would speak to Asian Americans. And there were chances to sneak in a line or two about that in the “role of government” section. But there was very little time for that, or for other key domestic issues like abortion, women’s rights, immigrant rights. Obama could have mentioned the 47 percent to sharply contrast where Romney stands on the role of government. Instead, Romney was able to sound like he’s a compassionate supporter of the middle income voter. Laughable, but that’s what happens when the  moderator loses control of the debate and allows the debaters to go at it. In a tightly scripted format where moderators contribution is to say “Time!” a looser conversation can seem  good. But this one got a little out of hand, as Romney took control.

If you saw Romney debate and liked him, just make sure you replay in your head that 47 percent tape. Remember that’s the real Romney. That’s what Romney really thinks. Romney isn’t the prefab Romney. The Romney in the 47 percent tape didn’t show up last night, because the cameras weren’t hidden.

That’s why you can’t trust any favorable impression he may have given last night. We didn’t get the hidden camera truth. When the stakes are this high, it’s the only thing you can trust.

Who won that first Obama-Romney debate?

When it comes to debates, format is everything. Sometimes it’s too tight. Sometimes it’s too loose.

Wednesday’s was just right—for Mitt Romney. But it was wrong for President Obama, who never seemed to find the oratorical magic to take over.  

Indeed, it was Romney who seemed to be comfortable and in control of this “wonk-fest,” perhaps due to all the debates the Republicans did in the primary season.

Now as for the facts?

In some ways, the facts don’t matter in debates. Reality check all you want, only a bald face lie is a negative. Debates are  made for an etch-a-sketch guy like Romney. They’re not made for the deliberate orator like Obama.  Debates really are all about style and confidence and how a candidate thinks on his feet.  It’s the whole persuasive package, not a matter of accuracy.  So the key question to ask is who looked energized and engaged in his answers? Who looked presidential? Who looked like he wanted to be the next president? Who listened as well as they spoke so they could pounce, deflect, retort appropriately.

In that sense, I think Obama looked like he mailed it in.  He acted like a politician with a lead. He didn’t go for some of the things that he personally needed to ask Romney directly.  If he is your surrogate, you want him to ask Romney about “that tape,” that 47 percent comment, the tax-return  issue, Bain capital. Where were questions on those issues?

Romney acted like a man back on his heels who had to do well. He’s not Thurston Howell III. He’s the underdog overdog. He needed a positive campaign experience and the first debate I think gave that to him.

Did it change undecided voters? I don’t think so. There was nothing that changed anything. Romney on Wednesday night is the same guy he was last week and the week before. Not a good candidate, not exactly the man to be president. So he had one good night at the first debate. Is that really enough to jump on the Mittwagon?

CNN’s flash poll of registered voters, 67 percent said Romney won. Only 25 percent said Obama won. If Romney wins the election , this debate will be a turning point. If he loses, then you’ll know that one debate victory is not enough.

Also see my pre-debate comments on the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund blog.

 

More thoughts on the National Asian American Survey

I’m surprised there’s not been  much reported on the new National Asian American Survey released this past week. There’s some really interesting insight on the non-m0nolithic nature of the group.

You can find links to the survey and  read my take on the NAAS on  the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund blog.

Personally, I am fascinated that a poll finally can drill down and say what specific Asian American communities think, merely because they were asked in large enough sample sizes. But does anyone else care about being able to drill down to plus/minus 7 percent accuracy on how the Hmong feel?

 The value is clear because data still trumps ignorance. In lieu of the pricey and work-intensive  NAAS, all you have is anecdote, guessing and lobbyists trading favors with politicos in order to get things done. 

Then again, maybe we are putting too much value in the data. Could it be Asian Americans could be better off without anyone knowing specifics?

We’re 31 percent undecided, and the politicos still don’t seem to care.

The fact is there are still a relatively small number of Asian Americans in the electorate.

We aren’t quite where the Latinos and blacks are yet. Maybe in another generation.

We’re still a group that has to make things happen in coalition. And that’s what the NAAS does show.

The survey shows we’re independent and changeable. Filipinos have gone from primarily Democratic to now mostly Republican in 4 years. Vietnamese have migrated away from being the GOP’s favorite boat people, to  a more moderate, independent stance.

When Pew did a study on Asian Americans earlier this year, the headline seemed to be how Pew’s data was used to perpetuate and solidify the “Model Minority” idea,  that notion of the stereotypical Asian American success.

For me, the NAAS survey, explodes any sense of a poltical “Model Minority,” the one that presumes  we are all one big happy Asian American community and  political block.  We aren’t. The NAAS documents how the monolithic Asian America is a myth. Asian America  may slightly tilt toward Democrats for now. But witihin the group, the actions of Filipinos and Vietnamese suggest a more tactical sense of how to play politics.