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.