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Why President Obama Lost to Mitt Romney in the Overall Debate Series

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Final Debate Analysis: Despite Losing Two out of Three Debates, Romney is the Winner of the Debate Series.
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The last debate, held at Lynn University, was the tamest of the three debates between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama due to in part to the debate format and setting—sitting down next to your opponent instead of walking around a stage tends to minimize one’s anger and emotions.

Still, the candidates sparred on an array of foreign policy issues—Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Russia, China--- although Romney tried to make economics share the stage with foreign policy whenever possible.

Romney tried to convince voters the economy was a national security issue that has weakened America's standing in the world. And when presented the opportunity, Romney seized it again to present his five-point plan to revive the sluggish economy, that includes creating training programs for workers to helping small businesses grow and thus create more jobs.

Throughout the debate, Romney took a more temperate tone but nevertheless accused the president of repeatedly apologizing for the country abroad — something the president vigorously denied — and failing to stand up for its ideals, especially during the revolutionary "Arab Spring.”

The third and final presidential debate focused largely on defense and foreign policy issues, with the two rivals painting vastly different pictures of the world: safer and tighter-knit, Obama suggested; dangerous and more threatening, Romney said.

But on many issues, including Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan and the use of predator drones — which both men endorsed — the two were often largely in agreement, despite their sometimes heated rhetoric.

On the surface, the debate appeared as the mirror-image of Obama’s disastrous debate in Denver.

This time, Romney was subdued and the President who came out swinging, appearing more like an aggressive challenger. Perhaps Romney felt he already established himself as a viable alternative to the President and did not want to alienate women with any belligerent attacks.

Others suggest that Romney underestimated the play-it-safe strategy and should have capitalized on his momentum by pursuing a discussion about the attack in Benghazi.  Judging by the reactions of some, Romney blew it, says Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone. As I saw it, "this should be the death-blow to Romney, but I've said that before and been wrong."

So who won?

The snap polls are unanimous: Round 3 went to Obama.

The CBS News poll of undecided voters was pretty lopsided, with Obama besting Romney by 30 percentage points, 53 percent to 23 percent; the rest of the polls of debate-watching voters — from CNN, Public Policy Polling, and Google Consumer Surveys — had Obama winning by between 8 and 11 points.

The question of who won the debate overall may be misleading, says CNN's David Gergen. In "the second debate, the president clearly won and yet people came out saying that Romney would do a better job handling the economy.

While Obama may have won the debate on points, as he did in the second debate, he failed to score the “knockout punch” he needed to turn the trajectory of the race, at least in the frame of the debates. More important, Romney passed the commander-in-chief test, proving that he could be the president’s equal on foreign policy, though with a different approach.

So in presidential math, 2 out of 3 debate wins does not equal an overall winner in the debate series. Obama “won” the debate on Monday because he appeared to be the more aggressive debater. Aggressors in a competition are almost usually viewed more positively, but Romney wasn’t the detached, lethargic, uninspiring, downward gazing, person the President was in the first debate—therefore, Romney didn’t lose decisively.

And in the end, Romney ended up winning the “debate series” because of his overwhelming decisive first debate victory. He was able to dispel the caricuture that team Obama painted of him-- that he is a heartless, rich capitalist who cares nothing of the plight of the working class. Romney reworte that narrative and, at the same time, appeared presidential, and made himself a reasonable and acceptable commander in chief.

Obama asked the correct question of the debate, “Who would be the most credible?” Unfortunately for him, he only came off as marginally so. And in an election focused on the economy, that margin needed to be much wider. 

Photo credit: usnews.com

Contact Erik Uliasz at euliasz@philly2philly.com

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