Lions vs. Bears

October 23, 2012

ESPN promoted last night’s Lions-Bears game as “Michigan’s Own versus the Pride of Chicago”, playing off the presidential debate that aired at the same time. And the outcome of the two contests appeared to follow a similar script, with the men from Illinois coming out on top. The press coverage described the President as more forceful, and his “horses and bayonets” line was the consensus sound bite of the night.

It is the press coverage which will mostly count in this debate, because it was likely the least watched of the three debates. Not only was it the last of the three, when many people might have felt they’d already done their civic debate-watching duty, but it was on foreign policy, a topic that engages the interest of fewer Americans. It was also an advantage for Governor Romney that he apparently performed less well in the debate that was aired at the same time as Monday Night Football. That means the President’s aggressive performance, which might appeal more to men, was probably seen by less of them.

Romney appeared to follow the same strategy as Obama did in the first debate. The Obama campaign, with their relatively strong lead in late September, may have felt the debates could not be won – their lead was not going to grow – but could be lost with a stumble. So he played it safe, assuming a calm and mature posture. And, as you may have read, an aggressive and energetic Romney rolled over him. In this case, some of the pre-debate chatter suggested that Romney need only hold his own on foreign policy against the sitting Commander in Chief. Obama, needing a win on a subject he should command, was seen as the aggressor, portraying Romney as uninformed and ill-prepared.

The post-debate punditry -- which is all I am focusing on here -- did not score the contest as a win on the same scale as Romney’s in the first debate. But winning is still good for the President’s cause, and it re-enforces an important message about readiness that may impact the thinking of some voters. Economic questions are still the most important, but we are still close enough to 9/11 and the war in Iraq that foreign policy remains part of the calculation. And with the gap in the national polls measured in tenths of a percentage point, everything’s important.

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