Thursday October 4, 2012

While county Republican leaders cheered the presidential debate performance by Mitt Romney as a game-changer and a knockout punch, local Democrats conceded a weak outing for President Obama but held out hope for a turnaround in the month leading up to Election Day.

"In the eyes of many people, it was far and away one of Obama's weaker performances," conceded former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III, who has been campaigning for the president in battleground states along with other current or former city mayors.

"The president tried to talk issues, but because of the format, Romney was allowed to run roughshod with a lot of inaccuracies," Barrett contended. "This is a 15-round fight, with 10 more to go, so you'll see a different approach from both of them. I'm not discouraged at all."

For Jim Bronson, chairman of the Berkshire County Republican Association, Romney's appearance on Wednesday night was "Reaganesque, presidential, he had a clear command of the issues, it was a terrific night. The country is crying out for that kind of leadership, and he can and will give it."

According to Bronson, "Obama appeared bewildered, disgruntled and wouldn't look Romney in the eye, while Romney dazzled the president with the facts. It was a knockout performance and a game-changer."

But Peter Giftos, former executive director of the Republican association, took a more measured view.

"It's always hard to try to be fair and neutral when you're not," he said. "Trying to be objective, I thought Romney did exceptionally well, and I didn't expect him to do so. I was pleasantly surprised."

Asked whether Wednesday night's debate would improve the Republican candidate's chances to win the presidency, Giftos predicted that "if the next two debates are anything similar, it might just turn the corner for him. The important thing is that we need a change."

"I don't believe in party first, my country comes first, and I'm adamant about it," Giftos said. "If a Democrat or a Republican says something correctly, we should back them."

But he declared firmly that Obama doesn't deserve support for re-election.

Prominent Berkshire attorney and longtime Democratic activist Sherwood Guernsey voiced anger about the debate.

"I think Mitt's performance was shameful, awful, all about shuck and jive," he said. "He was deceptive and misled the American people. I hope they're going to see through it. The question is, will they?"

Conceding that "Obama could have been stronger," Guernsey maintained "that's not the issue. It's not a test of theater, it's a matter of telling the truth. I don't think the president had his best night, but he was dealing with a guy who was misleading everybody."

But, in his view, "it was not a game changer, there were no big gaffes. They both held their own. Romney used the oldest ruse in politics, saying he's got a plan, but there is no plan. That's shameful in a presidential candidate."

Lee Harrison, one of four county members of the Democratic state committee, state: "I'm sure Mitt Romney thinks he hit a home run, but he was using a loaded bat. It was a great performance, but an election is not about theater. Nearly everything he said was untrue."

While Obama was not on his game, Harrison added, "eventually the truth will win out. I would have loved to have seen a more contentious Obama, but that doesn't alter the facts."

As for the impact on voters, Harrison professed "great confidence" in an Obama victory. "I don't think it will move the needle very much, though it may have a little bit of resonance for a day or two."

But Bronson, terming Romney's showing a "grand slam," predicted that if all voting were completed today, the challenger would win by 5 or 6 percentage points. "But," he cautioned, "what looks great today might not look so great tomorrow."

"The biggest mistake anyone can make is underestimating Romney," Barrett said. "I believe we saw him at the top of his game, but in the next two debates, he'll fall absolutely flat."

Barrett remains confident of an Obama re-election victory, contending that "voters have a short memory and the next debates will bring everyone back to reality."

As Barrett saw it, "the president was too much of a gentleman putting forth his ideas. I don't believe he wanted to fire all his guns. But when your game isn't that strong, and the other guy's is, that's not the best formula for success."