Strategists: Obama flat in first debate

Strategists: Obama flat in first debate
President Obama faced an aggressive Mitt Romney in the first of three presidential debates.

In a debate that likely had Democratic strategists yelling at their TV sets, Republican nominee Mitt Romney aggressively went after President Obama in the first of three meetings between the two candidates ahead of Election Day.

The general consensus among the strategists C&E talked to post-debate: President Obama’s performance fell flat Wednesday in the face of an offensive from Romney.

The early punditry played out on Twitter well before the debate wrapped. Republican strategists were hailing Romney’s performance as a clear victory, and even some Democrats lamented what they saw as an off-message Obama. Some post-debate reactions:

Ed Rollins: Republican strategist; managed Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential race and served as a top adviser during Rep. Michele Bachmann’s 2012 run

"The message out of this is, don't make your decision up yet. I think Romney did what he had to do. I think the president tried to tread water.

It was really Romney's show. [But] I think he has to improve on it. My sense is he'll keep hammering, keep hammering. He's back in the game again."

Bill Hillsman: Ad maker who has created spots for the likes of Jesse Ventura and Ned Lamont; President of North Woods Advertising

“The best news for Obama is that most of the audience was probably asleep...just like he was. His performance was anything but smooth. In fact, probably the reason Obama had so much more time speaking is because of his halting, uncertain speech mannerisms in this debate. 

But overall the debate was a huge yawn. Anybody who has problems getting to sleep and who watched this debate isn't having a problem tonight.  The first segment—and much of the debate—was so repetitive it was like watching someone hit a tennis ball against a backboard.  No wonder the major networks have learned not to waste prime time on this kind of programming. It made one long for Ross Perot and his charts and graphs.” 

Tad Devine: Democratic strategist; senior adviser to Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign

“Like most challengers to an incumbent president, Romney did well. I expect the race will get closer.”

Mark R. Kennedy: Director and Professor at the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University; former three-term Republican Congressman from Minnesota  

“It certainly appeared that Mitt Romney was more comfortable and more engaging than Barack Obama. Romney maintained more of a smile, while Obama appeared stern. Both of them were going after one another, but Romney repeatedly came back to the issue of jobs.  

Oftentimes the challenger wins the first debate, but I do think this helps with momentum. You heard Romney make some clear and definitive statements, saying he would support no tax cut that would increase the deficit, for example. That’s the type of statement that might really resonate.”

Bob Lehrman: Former speechwriter for Vice President Al Gore and dozens of other Democratic candidates

“I thought Romney did very well. He looked relaxed and spoke clearly. He used stories sometimes effectively, and he was looking up a lot. All of that made him seem friendly and caring. I thought President Obama had some effective points tonight, but he looked grim. When people see someone looking down a lot they seem evasive. I think demeanor counts.

I think a winner depends a lot on your biases that don’t have to do with performance. But I will say this: I think Romney did better than I thought he would do, and Obama didn’t do as well as I thought he would.”

Richard Benedetto: Journalism professor at American University; Former White House correspondent and columnist for USA Today

“I think that the debate was a clear win for Mitt Romney on a number of levels. He had to do something to stem the bleeding in the way the media wanted to characterize the race as over. Romney showed this race is not over.

The president was flat. He suffered from not being questioned enough by the press, and as a result he just wasn’t prepared. The takeaway is that this is going to change the narrative of the campaign from the media wanting to write the race off as over to writing the race is still very much alive.”

Shane D'Aprile and Sean J. Miller contributed

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