In one of the biggest OOPSes in presidential debate history, Barack Obama forgot to show up for his first debate against Mitt Romney—or that is—he would have done better if the shell he sent in had stayed home.
The Poll shows that Barack Obama has seen a negative change of twelve percentage points of support in the past three weeks, i.e. since the last poll was taken in mid-September.
Whereas in the last poll, Obama led Mitt Romney among likely voters, 51%-43%, in the latest poll, taken after the first presidential debate, Romney has risen six points, and the President has fallen six points, with Romney now leading Obama 49%-45%.
In retrospect, given the enormous and widening lead Obama had going into that first debate, this shift for Romney has to be seen, for the time being, as one of the greatest turnarounds for a campaign in history. And Obama's debate performance is unquestionably one of the worst in history—just in terms of its negative impact on the polls.
There is really no excuse on the Democratic side for this turn of events. The President had every advantage and threw it away, almost as if he wanted to lose.
It should have been so easy for Obama. Go into the debate, make the same case former President Clinton had already made, to great acclaim, at the Democratic National Convention. And then tear Romney apart on his numerous inconsistencies and vagueness. But the latter dynamic never materialized.
Reportedly, Obama was ill-advised to restrain himself, and play nice, and definitely not show his outright contempt for Romney. This however translated into making Obama often seem at a loss for words, or worse, completely unengaged—appearing to scribble or doodle like a bored schoolboy while a vigorous and dominant Romney lectured him.
While Romney repeatedly mischaracterized Obama's positions, and pretended that the President was out of control doing the same to him—Romney appeared aggressive, confident, and even a bit righteous in rejecting the President's often quite reasonable arguments. Obama just looked like he couldn't believe he had to endure this charade and wished it was all over.
The problem with that attitude is that it suggested to voters that Obama's contempt did not stop at Romney, but that it extended to them as well. It was ironic that it was Obama, not Romney, that ended up looking clueless and interested in himself and not voters. Generally, this attitude was communicated by style and body language only, and not in the words of the respective candidates.
But, as Richard Nixon learned a long time ago, the visual intimacy of televised debates can turn things on a five-o'clock shadow. Or a scribbled notepad.
The Pew Poll confirms this once again—showing that 2/3 of voters viewed Romney as the winner of the first debate. Worse for Obama, Romney has eliminated Obama's likability lead, and the President's huge lead amongst women and minority voters.
The loss of these enormous advantages by Obama, on the basis of this one debate performance, definitely qualifies the first presidential debate of 2012 as one of the most significant debates in US electoral history. And it is not because Romney's performance was so great, but because Obama's was so incredibly bad.
If Obama ends up losing the election on November 6, he will have one person to blame for it—himself. Obama now faces a difficult task of showing the nation that last Wednesday's outcome was a bad night for the President, and not instead a revelation of a real, revealing, difference between that candidates that convincingly benefits Mitt Romney.