AN UNHELPFUL DEBATE
NEW YORK TIMES
The Mitt Romney who appeared on the stage at the University of Denver seemed to be fleeing from the one who won the Republican nomination on a hard-right platform of tax cuts, budget slashing and indifference to the suffering of those at the bottom of the economic ladder. And Mr. Obama’s competitive edge from 2008 clearly dulled, as he missed repeated opportunities to challenge Mr. Romney on his falsehoods and turnabouts. ... There are still two more presidential debates, and Mr. Obama has the facts on his side to expose the hollowness of his opponent. But first he has to decide to use them aggressively.
ROMNEY TAKES THE STAGE
WALL STREET JOURNAL
Mitt Romney met the challenge of appearing Presidential, showed a superior command of fact and argument than the incumbent, and made a confident, optimistic case for change. ...This was easily his finest performance as a candidate, and the best debate effort by a Republican nominee since Ronald Reagan in 1980. ... Mr. Romney kept reminding Americans about the unpleasant facts about where we've been as a way of casting doubt on what four more years of Mr. Obama would be like. But significantly, and for the first time, he didn't merely criticize the Obama record. Mr. Romney went further and explained with some specificity how his policies would improve the lives and economic prospects for middle-class Americans. ...The President seemed off his game overall, verbose as he often is but with his famous restraint seeming more diffident than cool as Mr. Romney bore in with details about his record. It's clear Mr. Obama isn't used to someone challenging the attack lines that he uses to describe Mr. Romney's various proposals on the stump.
MITT SEIZES HIS CHANCE
His chances slipping away in Ohio and other key points on the electoral map, Romney needed something — anything — to change the trajectory of a race that has turned against him. It was his last, best chance to alter the narrative of the contest and, with tens of millions of Americans watching, Romney gave one of the strongest performances of his campaign. ... While Obama’s answers were often lengthy and ponderous, Romney went a long way to defeat the impression that he is wooden and awkward. His attacks on the president were respectful but deft. He joined Obama deep in the weeds of policy and demonstrated a command of substance — even if he didn’t divulge much new about his policies. At times he sounded downright human — and even (can it be?) funny.
ROMNEY'S PERSONALITY SHIFT
E.J. DIONNE JR
The strangest aspect of Wednesday night’s debate was Mitt Romney’s decision to change his tax policies on the fly. Having campaigned hard on a tax proposal that called for $5 trillion in tax cuts, he said flatly that he was not offering a $5 trillion tax cut. ... Romney’s willingness to remake himself one more time brought into sharp relief a central flaw of his candidacy: Having campaigned as a moderate when he ran for governor of Massachusetts, he veered sharply to the right to win the Republican presidential nomination. Now, with the election just weeks away and polls showing him falling behind in the swing states, he has decided that he needs once again to sound moderate, practical and terribly concerned about the middle class — and that is the person he sought to be in Denver.
90 MINUTES OF EVASION
...Both candidates studiously maintained the evasions and omissions at the heart of their policies. The debate was wonky without being especially honest. ... Mr. Obama, slightly ahead in the polls, was more policy professor than point-scorer. Mr. Romney, who needed more from the debate, talked at a somewhat higher elevation but also steered clear of personal attacks. Mr. Romney effectively indicted the president for the weak state of the economy four years after his election. ...But the two candidates were strikingly complicit in failing to confront the magnitude of the fiscal challenge the winner will face immediately. The overriding feature of the debate was a tacit conspiracy of avoidance.
COOL HAND BARRY
CHARLES M. BLOW
NEW YORK TIMES
The passion that the president exhibits on the campaign trail never showed up on the debate stage. To my mind, that was a mistake. This is the closing argument of a campaign. The jury has heard all the evidence that it’s going to hear. The candidates needed to deliver a strong, moving summation. We all know that Obama is capable of stirring oratory, but in the first debate he failed to deliver. The guy with the weaker case made the stronger statement, falsehoods and all, and that is a dangerous thing to allow so close to Election Day. The Obama campaign must learn from this blunder: stronger is better. The last phase of the campaign is about impressions more than it is about policy. It is unfortunate, but at this stage, for the undecided people in the middle, substance is a casualty of style. By that measure, Romney outshone the president at this debate.