Romney Won ... Big
As we get down to the final month of a campaign that feels as if its been going on since 1873, we are just hours away from the first of four debates - three between the Presidential candidates and one between the Veeps.
Both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have been off the campaign trail for days cramming for this debate. That means they will have canned answers to anything moderator Jim Lehrer can possibly be expected to ask.
I don't agree with people who are saying and writing that this debate is Romney's last chance. If you go back through the primary campaign coverage, you will see far, far too many claims that some event was some candidate's last chance; only to have that candidate have another last chance in another state a week later.
I am betting - and I am typing this at 5:45 PM Eastern - that this debate will be like the opening round of a heavyweight fight: The two candidates will circle around one another, trying to land a jab here an a straight right there, but taking care not to walk, like Sonny Liston, into a dangerous counterpunch.
I was wrong. Romney had studied Obama and figured out he could come up under Obama's defenses and whack him again and again. Romney didn't land a knock-out blow; but unless this was Obama's version of rope-a-dope, he took a pretty bad beating last night.
From the very beginning it appeared to me that Romney was better prepared and/or more rested than Obama.
We were reminded why the President needs a TelePrompTer. Obama seemed to be unfocused in many of his answers - he appeared, in fact, to be overwhelmed by Romney's command of the facts and the specifics of what he wants to do.
Put another way to Obama: I know Bill Clinton; Bill Clinton is a friend of mine; You, Mr. President, are no Bill Clinton.
The longer the debate went on (it is 45 minutes - half way - as I type this) Romney's command of the subject matter like Social Security and Medicare are staggering Obama.
Obama had to lean on his grandma not once but twice to try and demonstrate his concerned for the underclass - the boxer equivalent of covering up in the corner.
It appeared to me that Obama began - literally - shrinking on stature during the Dodd-Frank discussion, while Romney - who knows a little about how markets work - explained why regulations are necessary but the markets have to know that they are reasonable and stable.
At the 10:00 pm mark (2/3 of the way into the debate) Romney went through the differences between ObamaCare and RomneyCare. Romney hit hard on a "board" that will determine who can receive what level of care.
After about a minute of stumbling around, when Obama finally got around to explaining how it would work (using Cleveland Clinic as the example) he had lost the point. Again.
Romney turned that around on Obama by saying the Cleveland Clinic example makes his (Romney's) case: That's the private market at work, not the government.
By 10:10 (70 minutes in) Obama went from unfocused to petulant as it became clear to him he was getting his clock cleaned.
On the role of government question, Obama provided his best answer since his opening answer when he used the phrase "economic patriotism" but never built on it making me think it was something he practiced saying between the Green Room and the stage.
Obama hit on education saying "it was not top-down, Governor." Unfortunately it was 75 minutes too late.
Romney countered on the education issue by saying that first we need "great teachers."
If Romney could win the snuggling-up-to-teachers point, Obama could have just walked off the stage at that point.
When Lehrer came back to education - to try and give Obama another bite at that polished apple - Obama stumbled over it again. By the time Obama got around to trying to ding Romney about borrowing money from parents to attend college, most of the nation's eyes had long-since glazed over.
This one wasn't even close. Romney won. Obama lost.
Thank you, Jim Lehrer for stopping by.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A history of Presidential debates from CNN and a modestly amusing Mullfoto.