Amid the chaos in the media room, where surrogates from across the country were bombarded by reporters, we found Seth Masket, an associate professor of political science at the University of Denver, who offered us his take on the debate and the larger implications in this tight race.
"For those who were not deeply familiar with the candidates before, you saw a pretty strong Mitt Romney coming off pretty aggressively, willing to pick some fights with his opponent, pick some fights with the moderator," he said. "It's really not something we've seen a whole lot before."
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Masket said that In addition to this unexpected charisma -- as others have noted since the debate -- Romney seemed to have moved away from some of the more far-right positions of his and Paul Ryan's platform, instead appealing to viewpoints more in the center.
"He seemed to be in some ways kind of repositioning himself," Masket said. "The inevitable pivot to the center really kind of happened within the last ninety minutes. It's in some ways pretty surprising. I'm wondering how much he'll get criticized for switching his policy positions."
Masket continued, "He seemed to be redefining his stances on taxes, or at least reframing them a lot.... and also on regulation of businesses of Wall Street. He said, 'We need regulation for the private sector to work.' Not something we've seen a whole lot before from him."
Obama perhaps was unprepared to respond to this kind of presentation, Masket said. "In my opinion, he could've gone at [Romney] a lot harder than he did."
But, he pointed out, "In many ways, the first debate often...favors the challenger, simply because particularly Romney comes off a spring with twenty Republican debates. Obama hasn't done this in four years. He's a little rustier. Most of his experience in recent years has been speeches, town hall meetings. It's a very different style."
The e-mail blasts from the two campaigns immediately after the debate also offer some useful insight. The Republican National Committee in Colorado sent an e-mail with links to Tweets saying Romney was winning, writing:
Across the battleground states the reviews are in. Governor Romney won the debate because he laid out the clear choice and a clear plan for voters. President Obama was "defensive," "perplexed," "aggravated," "irritated," "flat-footed," and "unprepared."And the Obama campaign, with an 11 p.m. e-mail featuring the subject line "Facts Matter and Mitt Romney Didn't Deliver Them," seemed to subtly acknowledge the difference in performance: "While Mitt Romney's rhetoric may have sounded polished tonight, it just wasn't true. On issue after issue, Romney avoided giving specifics and, in several instances, told flat-out falsehoods."
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