Like the first few rounds of a heavy weight fight, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama spent a cautious night together mostly dancing around each other. Each made their points, but not aggressively so.
Romney tried to be the aggressor but will have more tape that can be played against him the morning after.
Obama was the cautious champ, picking his moments and more concerned with overplaying his hand than winning every point in the first meeting.
Like Reagan’s cautious approach to the debates in 1984, Obama knows he is the president.
He has the votes where he needs them and he knows that it is more important to be true to those voters that hold the key to his re-election than to try to run up the score early to please his fans.
Anyone tuning in tonight to see the candidates go for broke was disappointed – and I think ultimately most people were disappointed – especially the reporters covering the race.
Obama did not win the night on its own, but that is not the job of an incumbent president with an electoral college lead.
Just like the selection of his running mate and just like the convention, Romney failed to deliver.
Romney’s aggressiveness may have produced the worst moment of the night for him – if Democrats recognize it and nail him on it.
Romney claimed to not know how anyone could not profit on their taxes for shipping jobs overseas. That is not only a lie, the benefit exists, but Romney reaped great financial rewards for doing just that.
He personally and repeatedly benefited from a tax law he denied existed.
The bigger problem for Romney is he defined himself to the American public as a politician that was not going to cut taxes for the rich, was going to cut taxes for the middle class, loves Medicare and supports popular government programs.
Wait till the truth catches up to Mitt Romney.
Alternately, Obama spent the evening being cautious. It was the right move. He was the president tonight. He defended his record and had the two best push back moments of the night.
First, as Romney denied his central campaign theme of delivering rate cuts to the wealthiest Americans, Obama rightly pointed out that Romney’s big idea was “never mind”.
Second, Obama dropped an excellent line when he questioned if Romney was keeping his plans secret because they were “too good” for the middle class.
Those are classic lines that will be replayed and underscore central themes of the president’s message and strategy.
Little that Romney said tonight was consistent with the campaign he has run for the last five years.
Obama made his points tonight without seeming shrill or arguing over a couple of minutes of time with the moderator like Romney.
Romney showed some of the annoyance he did during the GOP debates when he did not feel he got everything he was entitled to. Not a smart move on his part.
On easier targets like hitting Romney for talking about needing a new accountant or a clean shot to hit Romney on parking his money overseas – Obama passed. Again, It was the right move. The reward is not worth the risk. Surrogates will have endless hours to re-litigate the debate. They can deliver those zingers.
Romney did nothing to make himself more likable and he found no way to end the hemorrhaging of Hispanic voters, women or seniors.
It was on Medicare that Romney was weakest. That will not do for his campaign.
Obama boxed him in on vouchers and Romney’s return to a failed argument that Obama cut Medicare benefits is a loser.
Romney turned in the biggest flubs of the night. The first was when he said Americans don’t want Medicare. He meant to say Obamacare, but in the turn of a phrase Romney both seemed to reveal a truth about his philosophy about Medicare and elevate the Affordable Care Act to the program, along with Social Security, American voters feel most passionate about.
Romney must feel confident on the right because he embraced a bigger government and seemed to walk away from a commitment to cut taxes.
About Bill Buck
Bill Buck is a Democratic strategist, President of the Buck Communications Group, a media relations and new media strategies consulting business based in Washington, DC, and Managing Director of the online ad firm Influence DSP. He has over twenty years of international and national communications experience. The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of CBS Local.