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Mitt in the middle

The last US presidential debate framed a tight race,with Romney completing his turn to the centre

Written by The Indian Express | Published: October 24, 2012 2:55 am

With only two weeks to go before the US votes for a new president,predictions of a close race between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney would appear to be coming true. The final presidential debate began with a new poll indicating that the race to the White House has tightened to a dead heat. An assertive and sure-footed performance by Obama on foreign policy — the subject of the debate,though both candidates constantly attempted to guide it back to domestic policy — will probably do little to alter perceptions of its trajectory.

Obama played commander-in-chief,the man who has spent four years making difficult decisions and whose foreign policy benefits from that hard-won experience. Romney,on the other hand,had a curious task: as a Republican,he couldn’t attack the president from the left,but at the same time,he could not swing too far to his right either. He had to appear tougher than Obama,but not so tough that he gave voters the impression he would start more wars. So there was Romney agreeing with most of Obama’s policies but trying to make the case that he would implement them better. He walked away knowing that he had played on his opponent’s turf and come away bruised but unbloodied. Obama won this debate cleanly and decisively,but that is unlikely to blunt Romney’s momentum.

Before the first debate on October 3,Obama appeared to be pulling ahead,aided by Romney’s many gaffes,from ill-considered comments following the attack on the US embassy in Benghazi to derisive references to “47 per cent” of Americans who do not pay income tax. But an inexplicably somnambulant Obama turned up to debate a Romney who seemed more energetic and,crucially,more moderate. The Republican was able to close the gap in the ensuing polls,even take the lead in some. More importantly,he was able to reset the media narrative and emerge as a credible alternative to Obama,someone who might still be stingy with details on what he’d do when in office,but a candidate who would take the country on a different path. Despite Obama’s much-improved performances in the second and third debates,Romney avoided making any grave mistakes,internet memes notwithstanding. Obama may be two out of three on debates,but Romney,improbably,may have won the season.

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