Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was more passionate in Wednesday night’s debate than some Republicans expected. President Barack Obama was more reserved than some Democrats expected.
Neither produced a signature phrase or zinger that will make the first presidential debate of the 2012 campaign memorable, members of both parties said.
“There was no line people will remember 20 years from now,” said Kirby Wilbur, Washington State Republican Party chairman. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, he added, because both candidates dealt with substantive issues that can’t be reduced to a clever line or a one-minute response.
Romney was confident and substantive, said Wilbur, who added, “I was surprised how good he was.” Obama, on the other hand, seemed “almost uncomfortable,” he said.
Larry Grant, Idaho Democratic Party chairman, said he didn’t think Romney did a good enough job explaining his tax plan or health care plan to connect with “basic Idaho folks.” But he thought Obama looked tired and may have missed opportunities to make points, such as defending his changes to Medicare or bringing up a comment Romney made about 47 percent of Americans believing they are victims who are entitled to government services.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said Obama seemed thoughtful and serious, appropriate for “the serious time we’re in and the serious president he is.”
The debate was a good discussion between two people with very different views for the country, Murray said, and she thought Obama got the better of the debate and his plan will resonate more with middle-class families.
“The president laid out a vision for the future,” she said.
There were a lot of numbers thrown out, said Dwight Pelz, Washington Democratic Party chairman, such as $716 billion for a change in Medicare or a $5 trillion increase in the deficit. Romney seemed combative, he said – almost pugilistic at times, which isn’t too surprising for a candidate who is trailing in the polls.
When he tried to “goad” Obama on some points, such as references to energy companies that lost federal money being campaign donors, the president “didn’t take the bait,” Pelz said.
There were too many big numbers and not enough explanation of the time frames, Wilbur said. “With $5 trillion here and $2 trillion there … I think the average person loses comprehension.”
The format allowed the candidates to spend more time talking about a specific issue. But Grant said moderator Jim Lehrer sometimes did a poor job controlling the debate.
The remaining debates will use different formats, and next week’s debate will feature Vice President Joe Biden and challenger U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan. “We may get the zingers next week,” Wilbur said.