We’ve had two debates for the chief executive for both the nation and the state, and while the Democratic candidates came out swinging in both, it was the president who obviously got his mojo back, and the lieutenant governor trying to make anything stick.
Since the widely-panned performance at the first debate, the need to stem the bleeding by President Obama — particularly among his own party faithful — built up a level of expectations that could have rivaled the level Mitt Romney faced going into the first confrontation.
And from the very first question, President Obama took the reins and asserted himself in a very passionate and, at times early on, heated response to Governor Romney. The president did settle into a pattern of taking his opponent’s charges and quickly turning them into framing the issue against the governor.
There were moments, especially on economic issues, where the president didn’t give his best delivery, and that Governor Romney was able to hammer home. But many of the sound bites that voters will inevitably hear over the next few days will be focused on the assertive and fiery retorts by the president, most notably in the exchange over Libya.
One of the most forcible and assured responses by the president came when he directly turned to Romney and — point blank — declared, “I mean what I say.”
That seem to catch Romney off-guard, and in the next exchange, when Romney questioned whether the president had indeed called it an “act of terror” — which the president had done — it was not the moment that was the strongest for the challenger, especially when corrected by the moderator that the president had used the words “act of terror” the day after the Benghazi incident.
The ultimate winners, however, will be the partisan loyalists on both sides of the campaign, who will be convinced that their candidate won the debate, no matter what anyone else says. So, with the recognition that the president was finally “fired up” and has reassured his worried flock, the debate was an equal draw with both candidates scoring the needed points.
In the warm-up to the presidential showdown, though, it wasn’t one candidate having to step up their performance, but there was a distinct difference between what Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and former Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory put in for their second debate.
Again, it was the Democrat trying to make up lost ground, especially after two different polls showed the Republican with a continued double-digit lead over his rival right before the evening’s debate.
Dalton pulled a much more aggressive tone and style — by looking straight into the camera and lobbying everything he could muster — against McCrory.
From the Racial Justice Act to taxes and education, Dalton continuously looked straight into the camera, emphasizing his differences in ways to appeal to his own base of Democratic voters, of which about 18-20 percent are defecting to the Republican challenger.
In fact, Dalton’s most notable stance against McCrory was over the Racial Justice Act, perhaps designed to coalesce what should be a reliable voting block of black voters into the Democratic column.
In the Public Policy Polling findings released a few hours before the candidates took to the debate stage, only 68 percent of black voters were supporting Dalton, with 15 percent pledging support for the Republican and 12 percent undecided.
Granted, with the power of straight ticket voting that will likely come in early voting and on Election Day, that number will re-balance to its historical trends most likely, but for Dalton to be down that far among a core Democratic constituency this late in the game, it is no surprise that Dalton made such a public play.
But to have a candidate down double-digits at this point in the campaign means that the gloves have to come off and the fists lashing about to score a hit.
The problem is, Dalton couldn’t seem to land a big punch against his opponent, unlike the president.
Direct, well timed, and precise — a la the closing remarks regarding the “47%” — is what differentiates landing the crucial punch between two fighters. It may not have been a knock-out blow, but the other guy left a little bloodier.