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Published October 04 2012

Forum editorial: The night belonged to Romney

No matter how the partisans spin it, this much is inescapable: Mitt Romney had a good 90 minutes in Wednesday night’s first presidential debate; President Barack Obama, not so good.

The former Massachusetts governor not only came prepared to take on whatever the president threw at him, he also was animated, aggressive and even relaxed. Obama, on the other hand, seemed less focused than he usually is. It was as though he mailed it in, rather than cranked up all the debating and policy wonk skills he clearly has.

That being said, style was but one part of the debate, albeit the part that resonates with many Americans. Substance was the other factor, and in that regard the differences between the two men were sharply drawn. They brought competing visions for the nation to the stage – Romney’s getting more defined as Election Day nears, Obama’s framed by priorities and speeches during his nearly four years in office.

Pre-debate analyses were exercises in expectations. The president tried to paint Romney as a “good debater,” and Romney’s camp talked down the debating skills of their man. Of course, both candidates are excellent debaters, and it showed Wednesday night in a format that allowed them to challenge each other.

And that’s where Romney did better than Obama. Romney effectively parried nearly every one of Obama’s thrusts. He all but called the president a liar on issues ranging from tax policy to off-shore companies. For his part, the president seemed reluctant to go after Romney on his vulnerabilities: his apparent writing off of 47 percent of Americans, his involvement with Bain Capital, his refusal to release more of his tax returns, and his drift from the priorities outlined in the budget proposal of his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan.

Judging the debate on stage presence, repartee and focus on policy, Romney won. Judging the debate on policy detail and a blueprint for the future, Obama did better, but not as well as expected, and therefore not good enough.

Romney accomplished what he had to. He demonstrated that he is up to the job, that he has an informed grasp of issues and policy, and that he has a vision for the nation different from the president’s. Whether Wednesday night changed the fundamentals of the race is yet to be seen. And of course, there’s a long way to go before November. But Romney had a good night; Obama, not so good.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.