The results are in and, for Democrats, they are not quite what they had hoped for. The Oct. 3 presidential debate at the University of Denver did not go well. It showed President Obama looking more distant and professorial than presidential; someone whose oratorical skills and dynamism were checked at the door.
Republicans, on the other hand, were ecstatic. Their candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, was making the most of the opportunity and, by most accounts, not only seizing the moment, but — as Charlie Sheen might have explained it — winning.
“That was not a good night for him. He will be much better in the next two debates,” says former Denver mayor and cabinet secretary Federico Peña at a Get Out The Vote event in West Denver on Saturday. “He has a great record to talk about.” But, for the most part, with 60 million people watching last week, President Obama’s record stayed very nearly off the record.
Fortunately, Peña says, one bad showing will not spell doom for the president. There are two more debates with Gov. Romney and, tomorrow night, a vice presidential debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
“He’s going to counter-punch and correct the mistakes and misleading statements that Mr. Romney continues to make,” Peña says. And with Colorado a must-win state for Democrats, team Obama had better hope that Peña is right.
Last Wednesday, instead of taking the fight to his challenger or even counter-punching, the president played mostly rope-a-dope, letting his opponent take the fight to him. Obama supporters were stunned by the president’s seeming inability or, more generously, his strategy of letting Romney tire himself out landing blows. Instead, they waited and then waited some more. But the blows did not stop.
They heard virtually nothing about the president’s accomplishments including thirty straight months of job creation, a resurgent U.S. auto industry, increased domestic energy production, equal pay for women, the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — ending the war in Iraq or ordering the killing Osama bin Laden.
They heard nothing about a gift Gov. Romney had given them; the infamous “47 percent” comment in which Romney labeled 47 percent of Americans “dependent” on government for food, shelter or other government handouts and that they saw themselves as “victims.”
Romney initially stood by his statement, calling it merely “inelegant” phrasing. Recently, however, he apologized for it altogether saying he was “completely wrong.” But, last Wednesday any trace of inelegance in offensively labeling so many people went unspoken. Romney was too busy going on the offensive, from the debate’s opening to both candidates’ two-minute summations.
Romney spoke early, often and effectively about jobs and expanding the economy. But what neither he nor the president spoke about was an issue that won Romney favor during the Republican campaign when he and his rivals would outshout each other to demonstrate their intractable stance on the issue — immigration.
However, Julian Castro, brother of San Antonio mayor and keynote speaker at the recent Democratic National Convention, Joaquin Castro, says you can be certain that immigration will get plenty of attention at the next debate.
While jobs and the economy rank highest as pressing concerns for Latinos, immigration touches the lives of millions of American Latinos, a highly valued and critical voting bloc.
“That’s why you have three debates, because you have a lot of ground to cover,” he says. Castro joined Peña at the GOTV event on Saturday. He says the president will speak up about immigration as he has done often. “Since the president’s been actively campaigning for reelection, he’s spoken very boldly about Latino issues.”
Castro also says he believes the president will remind voters over the next two debates about Deferred Action, his executive order that will allow young immigrants the opportunity to remain in the United States for at least the next two years. He says the president will also hammer Romney for his campaign promise to veto the Dream Act, his self-deportation solution to immigration and his praise of Arizona’s controversial Senate Bill 1070, often called the ‘papers please’ law.
In the debate, Gov. Romney also seized every opportunity to portray himself as someone who knows how to work with the opposition. He says as governor in a state with an overwhelming majority of Democratic legislators, he found a way to reach middle ground and work effectively with the Democrats.
He says that is why his one term as Massachusetts chief executive was successful and made it possible to cut taxes, balance the budget and create a health insurance plan for the state that he once called a model for the nation.
But Boston City Councilman Felix Arroyo, who visited Denver last week on behalf of the Democratic Party, says the Romney he and most Massachusetts residents remember is not the Mitt Romney now hoping to become president.
Arroyo says that Gov. Romney simply used Massachusetts to build his resume, lay the foundation for his presidential runs and isolate himself from the legislature.
Arroyo says “Gov. Romney failed at bipartisanship.” Romney, Arroyo says, wasn’t so much a tax-cutting governor, but one who addressed the budget with higher fees for state residents. During his single term, Romney raised hundreds of millions of dollars with increased fees on everything from licenses to certifications. One particularly onerous hike was raising the amount it cost blind citizens to ride buses.
With three debates remaining, including the vice presidential debate, Democrats know they need to blunt any momentum Gov. Romney may have seized at D.U. Peña says he is confident that the president will call on the skills that catapulted him into the White House in 2008 to secure another term. Anything short of that could turn a once cool and confident campaign into four weeks of high anxiety and the beginning of a Democratic winter of discontent.