If you tally the rhetorical blows, the punches and the insta-poll results, Barack Obama came out ahead in the ﬁnal two of three debates this month. Yet the overall debate math has worked out well for the Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, who has tied the President in national polls and narrowed the gap in what really matters this election: the crucial battleground states.
“This race is going to be incredibly close—razor-thin in some places—until the end,” Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday. “But we’re up or tied within the margin of error in every single swing state. That’s exactly where we thought it would be.”
It’s certainly not where things stood before the first debate, on Oct. 3. Romney was trailing Obama in the polls and had lost many supporters to some combination of verbal gaffes, nasty attack ads and a surge in Democratic enthusiasm following that party’s convention. But Romney’s focused, aggressive performance in Denver against a lacklustre, sedate Obama won the Republican the debate and brought his supporters back into the fold.
The next two debates—the town hall in Hempstead, N.Y., and Monday’s foreign policy debate in Boca Raton, Fla.—were better nights for Obama, who was sharper and landed more punches. But, it turns out, presidential debates are more like a figure-skating routine than a boxing match: technical points count, but so does style. And Romney’s routine had a very strategic choreography.