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Lowman Henry
Lowman Henry

Lincoln Blog

by Lowman S. Henry

Debate Skills Key Factor in Romney Surge

October 31, 2012

As the Presidential race shifted into high gear in January few would have suggested that Mitt Romney's debating skills would win him the White House. He is not a font of knowledge like Newt Gingrich, a passionate spokesman for ideas like Rick Santorum, or a smooth speaker like Barack Obama.

But, should Wednesday morning find Mitt Romney the President-elect of the United States - as polls increasingly show he will be - he can look back at two debates as the decisive turning points in his quest for the presidency.

The first key debate occurred on February 22nd in Mesa, Arizona. Rick Santorum was surging. He had upset Romney in several states, turned in a widely acclaimed debate performance himself in Florida, and was threatening to overtake Romney in Michigan. Since Michigan is the ancestral home of the Romney clan, a loss to Santorum there would have likely spelled the end of Romney's chances.

But on the stage in Mesa, Rick Santorum faltered. He turned in a listless debate performance. Romney, ever the steady presence, deftly defended himself against his rivals' attacks, went on offense when needed, and generally appeared presidential. The debate stopped Santorum's momentum in its tracks and Romney went on to squeeze out a win in Michigan preserving his viability in the race.

Fast forward to the first presidential debate against Barack Obama and Mitt Romney was once again on the ropes. Many pundits were declaring the race to be over, and the Romney campaign found itself mired in gaffes and general incompetence. Once again, the candidate rose to the occasion pummeling a listless president, shattering his own negative stereotypes, and in the course of 90 minutes reversed the momentum of the race.

Few times in the history of Presidential races has a debate had such a profound effect. You almost have to go back to the very first such debate, between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, to find such an impact. Perhaps the 1976 debate when incumbent President Gerald Ford made his infamous gaffe about Eastern Europe and Soviet domination would also apply.

But, change the momentum Mitt Romney did and despite the fact President Obama recovered somewhat by turning in much improved performances in the next two debates, the tide had been turned.

Now, with less than a week to go before the election, state-by-state polls show Romney continues to close the gap in key battleground states, has over-taken Obama and is building a lead in others.

When the history of this contest is written, Mitt Romney's steady, forceful performance in the debates will emerge as one of the key factors leading to his election.

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