Hofstra Debate Conclusions

So reactions to the second presidential candidates’ debate didn’t much change as they marinated overnight. The CW take remains an Obama win and a badly needed reversal of First Debate impressions. Conservatives continue to alternate between insisting the two candidates did equally well and minimizing the impact of this debate as compared to the first. Snap polls of both undecideds and all voters continue to show a modest Obama edge. And for the most part, the chattering classes thought the debate was a better show overall, in part because of all the clash but also because a much broader range of issues came up. To put it another way, the Real People in this debate posed significantly better questions than did Jim Lehrer in Denver.

Given the extremely narrow nature of Romney’s foreign policy critique of Obama last night and throughout the campaign, you do have to wonder what the final debate next week will be like. Will Romney continue to conduct an inquisition of exactly what Obama said when on the Libya killings, treating the incident as a sort of domestic version of Fast & Furious, a key to the Vast Liberal Conspiracy? Or will he insist on turning every question into a fresh opportunity for Sinophobia, based on his campaign’s apparent belief that the states of Ohio and Virginia and ultimately the election will be determined by people who live in coal-producing towns who really hate China? Hard to say, though as of the second debate the Romney pitch seems oddly divided between this sort of micro-messaging on the one hand, and numbing repetition of Mitt’s latest Obama’s Failures litany aimed at voters open to the “economic referendum” appeal.

Meanwhile, it should be clear to everyone that Moderate Mitt took a beating last night, and that Obama did as much as he’s ever going to do in laying out a second-term agenda. So voters who have mentally “fired” Obama for poor performance have fresh things to think about in deciding if Romney has crossed the threshold of acceptability, and those just looking for signs that Obama wasn’t terminally burning out got some significant reassurance. In general, “base” voters on both sides should feel reassured, and it’s very likely the race will stay close enough that long-simmering efforts to bring partisans to November 6 in a fear-and-hate-frenzy will come to fruition.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.