Sunday October 7, 2012

LENOX

It's time to get a grip and stop all the pontificating, prognosticating and yes, hallucinating, about the impact of last Wednesday's "Debate Night in America," as the hapless CNN chose to package its coverage -- as if it were the political parallel of a high-stakes football game.

Romney supporters: Your guy did well, and that's no surprise. He's an adept debater, having polished off rivals seeking the Republican nomination. Willard spent many hours in debate-prep boot camp, squaring off against Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, standing in for Obama.

Portman must have done a good job, because Romney reinvented himself (again!) as a moderate Republican, the voice of sweet reason on tax reform, health care and other topics.

The "severe conservative" was nowhere to be seen, an obvious ploy to win over lukewarm independents for Obama and the handful of low-information voters known as undecideds. Romney's Republican base didn't blast him for abandoning them because they know he didn't mean it. Whatever it takes to win, after all.

Obama supporters: Cut out the self-pitying handwringing. You think your guy played it safe and sat on his lead. Actually, his plan was to look presidential, stay above the fray and not confront Romney on his distortions, half-truths and non-truths.

Bad strategy, but it's a one-time misfire and won't be repeated. Don't assume the election is lost. It will be a cliffhanger, and any thought of a clear, comfortable win was probably fantasy all along.


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Figure on a late-night vigil on Nov. 6, especially since the TV networks are cutting back on exit polls to save money, meaning announcing a winner will have to wait for the actual vote tally. That's as it should be.

Debate organizers: Choosing Jim Lehrer as moderator of the first debate, viewed by some 67 million Americans, was a mistake. He lost control from the get-go, failed to prepare hard-hitting questions, and the result was that the candidates ran their own event.

Can we hope for better results from upcoming debate moderators Candy Crowley of CNN (Oct. 16 on Long Island, town-hall format) and Bob Schieffer of CBS News (Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla., on foreign policy)? Yes, but perhaps not much better.

Media punditocracy: With a few exceptions, you've been marching in lockstep with the same narrative. The Denver Post headlined "Round 1: Romney" and, in the same article, used boxing-arena and bull-fighting lingo. MSNBC commentators were petulant, defensive and, in the cases of Chris Matthews and Lawrence O'Donnell, laughably absurd. Rush Limbaugh and the Fox News brigade spouted off as if Romney had been elected president.

You've all treated it as a sporting event or as performance theater. Good for ratings and readership, but off-base.

Voters: It's hard to close your eyes and ears to all the chatter, but from this vantage point, not much has changed. Obama will recover from his low-key, headmaster approach. Romney may continue on a roll, or discover that he has to fill in the blanks on his policies.

There's exactly a month to go and there are several potential game-changers ahead. But debate No. 1 was not one of them.

Recommended reading: Political numbers-cruncher Nate Silver's New York Times blog, The 538. He dissects the polls and emphasizes their volatility. He updates the likely electoral vote and popular-vote margins daily.

So far, it remains: Advantage, Obama.

Eagle staffer Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@berkshireeagle.com
or (413) 496-6247.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.