Although the Republican ticket didn’t land the kind of knock-out punches that Mitt Romney scored in his first debate with Barack Obama, Colorado Republicans had plenty to cheer about at parties convened in Denver to watch the vice presidential and second presidential debates.
The sequels can’t compare with the first debate, held two weeks earlier at the University of Denver, noted Romney’s state women’s coalition director Monica Owens. “It was in Colorado, there was so much enthusiasm, it was the first debate,” she said. “Gov. Romney came out punching. I think this time — of course, I’m a bit biased — but I think he still won. He had actual points and actual things he was going to do.”
“I was impressed with both of them, but I’m still more impressed with Romney than Obama,” said Reid Kirkpatrick, raising his voice above the celebratory din at a Lodo bar filled with Romney supporters, illuminated by a dozen large-screen TVs blaring the post-debate analysis on Tuesday night. Romney and Obama had just concluded their debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
Though he awarded the night to the Republican, Kirkpatrick had praise to go around.
“I think both sides will be really pleased with how their candidate performed tonight. Both were strong — it’s nice that Obama showed up tonight and did his job. I don’t think he had much to work with, because of his record,” he said, and then docked his favorite on points. “I think Romney really missed some opportunities to really nail him down on some stuff.”
Despite a rigid set of rules — apparently tossed at the outset — the town-hall format brought out the alpha males in the two, Kirkpatrick decided.
“I like that they had to go face-to-face, they were squawking at each other. I didn’t think that was going to be available tonight, and I enjoyed seeing that a lot,” he said.
The Romney campaign held 36 watch parties in Colorado on Tuesday night, including a boisterous affair at the Tavern Downtown in Lodo, where roughly 100 Romney supporters gathered to watch the debate on a dozen TV screens. The previous Thursday night, the Romney campaign scheduled 33 parties statewide, and about 75 central Denver supporters squeezed that time into a side room at the Tavern Uptown.
The Obama campaign didn’t say how many watch parties it was throwing for the debates but opened the doors to a half dozen or so on each night to the press, promising that the get-togethers were taking place “in neighborhoods across the state.”
At a campaign office in the West Highland neighborhood of Denver on Tuesday night, about 20 excited Obama supporters heard a debate preview from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
“I was talking with the president after Denver, after the debate here, and he’s pumped up, he’s ready for the debate,” Salazar said, presciently. “You’re going to see the president being the president and telling the American people the truth about his record and about the future, laying out the plan and talking to the ordinary Americans who are going to be in that hall tonight. He’s fired up and he’s ready to go!”
There’s no doubt it was a more spirited and engaged Obama than appeared at the first debate, a lackluster performance that appears to have shifted the race nationally from a slim Obama lead to a neck-and-neck contest or one slightly favoring Romney.
Late Tuesday night, Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm based in North Carolina, released the results of what it termed a “post debate snap poll” of Colorado voters who watched the clash. Obama won narrowly, leading Romney 48-44 percent, but self-described independents handed the Democrat a victory by a wide margin, 58-36 percent.
Calling Tuesday night’s debate “a draw,” Romney supporter Dave Shelpuk — whose Denver-based company recently launched the iVote app, allowing mobile device users to instantly register their opinions, and will even be used for exit polling on Election Day — declared that CNN’s Candy Crowley, the debate’s moderator, was the clear winner.
Crowley did a much better job refereeing the debate than PBS newsman Jim Lehrer had two weeks earlier in Denver, Shelpuk noted. “When she tried to keep the guys under time and they kept pushing back, I think it was working against the candidate because it was obvious people were waiting, people had questions, and it showed the candidates really didn’t care what the next group of people had to say, and she wanted to make sure they had a chance to ask their questions.’
In the immediate aftermath of the presidential debate, Romney supporters seized on a tussle over nomenclature regarding a fatal attack on U.S. diplomats in Libya as an example of a blow delivered by their candidate, though national observers scored the exchange differently, calling it a memorable gaffe by Romney.
“What was the quote, when President Obama was talking about the Rose Garden and he said it was terror? And Gov. Romney called him out on it and (Obama) couldn’t even answer, he just said, ‘Proceed, Governor.’ He just couldn’t answer,” a triumphant Owens said.
Shelpuk likewise chalked the exchange as a win for Romney.
“Obama saying that he said right off the bat, one day after the Libya crisis, in the Rose Garden, that he said it was a terrorist act — first of all, that’s blatantly false, and second of all, for stuff that’s documented so clearly, I don’t know how candidates can possibly make those kind of claims when you can very easily look at a tape — it’s amazing to me that you can still think you can get away with that kind of stuff,” he said.
Amid the cheering and applause at the crowded party, both Romney supporters might have missed it when Crowley announced that Obama had indeed called the Benghazi attack acts of terror the next day — Romney contended that he hadn’t weeks later — a point Obama drew out by asking, “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?” as the audience in New York laughed and applauded.
Regardless which candidate scored however many points, Shelpuk concluded that he didn’t think that this week’s more evenly matched debate would change the trajectory of the race.
“I think they both did a good job. But I’m a big believer in momentum — once something starts moving in a direction, there needs to be a compelling reason to change it, whether it’s sports, whether it’s politics.” Following a stellar first debate, he said, “Romney had a lot of momentum behind him, had a lot of wind at his back. Obama did a better job here. But for the people that are in the margins, that are causing those movements in the race — is it enough to get them to say, ‘Well, I was thinking of voting for Romney, but now I’m going to vote for Obama’? If Obama did win this debate, I don’t think it was enough to persuade anybody. I think, if anything, the momentum will have just slowed.”