WASHINGTON: Mitt Romney’s strong showing in the first debate has recharged his campaign and ignited a presidential race that had seemed all but won by President Barack Obama, U.S. commentators said Thursday.
Morning editorials were almost unanimous in saying that an energized and aggressive Romney had gotten the best of a tired-looking Obama Wednesday, potentially tightening the race five weeks before the Nov. 6 vote.
“Barring revelations by the Obama campaign that Mitt Romney has an identical twin, whoever that guy representing the GOP ticket was in Denver has just given the United States a real presidential election. At last,” the conservative Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger wrote.
“We may all wonder why he waited until now to liberate the real Mitt, but five weeks from election day, that question is beside the point and behind us.”
Conservative columnist William Kristol of the Weekly Standard went further, saying Romney had “stood and delivered the best debate performance by a Republican presidential candidate in more than two decades.”
The more centrist Washington Post largely agreed, saying Romney had regained momentum after weeks of campaign missteps.
“Romney needed a strong performance after roughly a month of unrelenting bad news – and even worse polling in swing states. And, he got it,” Chris Cillizza wrote on the newspaper’s political blog “The Fix.”
“Obama’s debate performance seemed purposely restrained – striving for a workmanlike competence but achieving something well short of that.”
Roger Simon of the Politico news website went further, writing that “President Obama looked like someone had slipped him an Ambien.”
“It’s not that Romney’s performance was perfect or polished – it wasn’t – it’s just that Obama’s was so mediocre.”
Liberal commentators preferred to focus on Romney’s alleged distortions, decrying what they saw as Obama’s failure to fight back.
The left-leaning New York Times said the Romney of the debate “seemed to be fleeing from the one who won the Republican nomination on a hard-right platform of tax cuts, budget slashing and indifference to the suffering of those at the bottom of the economic ladder.”
But it admitted that “Mr. Obama’s competitive edge from 2008 clearly dulled, as he missed repeated opportunities to challenge Mr. Romney on his falsehoods and turnabouts.”
The consensus on social networks was that Romney’s debate performance had breathed new life into his recently sliding campaign.
One of the many judgments churning Twitter and Facebook was that Romney had crushed Obama.
Twitter announced shortly after Wednesday’s debate that it had been the most tweeted event in U.S. political history, topping this year’s Republican and Democratic National Conventions.
With 11.1 million comments, Wednesday’s debate was the fourth most tweeted telecast of any kind, coming in just behind the most recent Grammy awards, MTV’s Video Music Awards and the Super Bowl, according to William Powers, director of the Crowdwire, an election project of the social analytics firm Bluefin Labs.
Unlike the wider television viewing audience, debate watchers who comment on social media “are politically engaged in the strongest possible way,” Powers said.
But, he added, “it’s a bit of a hothouse population. It does skew younger, and I’m not sure how much middle America is represented.”
Twitter scored Romney the debate’s clear winner, according to PeopleBrowsr, a web analytics firm. The group found 47,141 tweets mentioning Romney and “win or winner” compared to just 29,677 mentioning Obama and “win or winner.”
Romney was also the top tweet in the handful of battleground states that will decide the election, including Florida, Ohio, Nevada and Colorado, PeopleBrowsr found.
In Ohio, a key battleground state where polls show Obama has emerged with a lead in recent weeks, the top two debate tweets were “Romney” with 15,115 and “Mitt” with 5,446. “Obama” placed third with 5,328.
The debate, focused on domestic issues, was a numbers-heavy discussion of the economy, debt and entitlement reform.
Search engine Google announced the debate’s four most searched terms: Simpson-Bowles (the bipartisan fiscal commission Obama appointed); Dodd-Frank (a democratic-backed financial reform law); Who is Winning the Debate; and the popular “Sesame Street” TV character Big Bird.
The social chatter settled into a few major themes.
- Big Bird. Early in the debate, Romney said he would defund public broadcasting to bring down the deficit but added that he liked Big Bird. Social networks immediately responded, with participants posting spoof photos of Big Bird and other “Sesame Street” characters on Facebook and setting up parody Big Bird Twitter accounts.
- Jim Lehrer. The veteran PBS newsman was widely criticized as the debate moderator, with viewers saying he asked weak questions and did a poor job of keeping command of the debate’s time and tempo.
- Romney’s big win. Social media participants marveled at Romney’s strong outing and pronounced Obama’s debate performance flat, non-energetic and meandering.