Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Barack Obama lost last night’s presidential debate. The question is how badly it will hurt him.
Heading into last night, the president enjoyed a lead of 3.1 points in the Real Clear Politics polling average. The margin was roughly consistent with where the race has been since Romney secured the Republican nomination in the spring, but it did reflect a slight tightening over the past week. But the immediate verdict from voters who watched the debate was clear, with 67 percent saying Romney fared better in a CNN flash poll, compared to just 25 percent for Obama. In CBS’s poll of undecided voters, Romney was the victor by a 46-22 percent spread.
Over the next few days, Romney stands to reap some significant benefits from what happened in Denver:
* The best press coverage of his life. Well, that’s probably overstating it, but Romney is in for the most favorable stretch of media treatment he’s received as a general election candidate. Since late August, when Republicans staged a dud of a convention, Romney has been portrayed as a candidate in decline, and Obama as a resurgent front-runner. There was good reason for this. Democrats put on perfectly choreographed convention, Romney suffered through the release of the devastating “47 percent” video, and polls confirmed that the momentum was squarely on Obama’s side. Anything short of a clear victory by Romney on Wednesday would have perpetuated this narrative. But he turned in the performance he needed (with a huge assist from a bafflingly docile Obama) and has given the media a new storyline: Romney’s back in it – now we have a real race! At least for the next few days, it will be Romney who is treated as the candidate on the rise, and Obama as the one desperately seeking to contain the damage.
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