Stateside: Impressions of the first Presidential Debate

Oct 4, 2012

The first Presidential debate of 2012 is in the history books.

Radio, Television and Newspapers are filled today with opinions, verdicts and spins.

Who came out on top?

Will the undecided voters be moved one way or another?

Did the 90-minute debate contain anything likely to strike a deep chord with voters here in Michigan?

We asked Michigan Radio's political analyst, Jack Lessenberry and Detroit News business columnist Daniel Howes to break down their thoughts on the debate for us.

The auto bailouts are close to the hearts and pocketbooks of many in people in Michigan, and they're an issue that President Obama's campaign has really focused on in this election.

We've heard Vice President Joe Biden repeating the rallying cry, "Osama Bin Laden is Dead, and General Motors is Alive."

And, yet, the issue of the auto bailout played virtually no role in last night's debate.

Jack Lessenberry said he was a little surprised it didn't come up, but attributed it to President Obama's efforts to not come off as disrespectful to Romney.

"I think President Obama was trying very hard to avoid doing what Al Gore did in his first debate with George W. Bush and look superior and look haughty, and he may of overcompensated for that," said Lessenberry.

Daniel Howes said he didn't think it was a misstep by Obama.

"The true story of the bailout is not as positive a narrative for the Obama campaign as they like people to think, and I think they know that. They're fighting battles on numerous fronts right now that are being ignored by members of the media," said Howes.

Howes cites stories on Delphi salaried retirees; how dealers were affected by the automotive task force; and the fact that taxpayers are still out about $25 billion in bailout money, as reasons why the bailout story isn't always a positive one for President Obama.

The overall perception of the bailout is a positive one, Lessenberry argued.

"I think for the average voter, the bailout is an unmitigated positive. And having been against the bailout wins Romney no points anywhere except for maybe Hillsdale College."

Lessenberry and Howes both agreed that if you see either presidential candidate show up in Michigan, it's a bad sign for the Obama camp.

Cyndy wanted to know what issues matter most to Michigan voters.

They both agreed "It's the economy, stupid."

Howes said the economy is critical. And last night he felt President Obama was asking for more time.

“Four more years of a bad strategy is a bad strategy. If he really wants to make the case, or close the case, he’s got to be a lot more prescriptive than he was. And I think Romney did a much better job of that in projecting movement,” Howes said.

Howes said Romney brought up a lot of facts in the debate, and pushed President Obama on the cost of oil and gas subsidies, “and the President basically didn’t have a response.”

Lessenberry said it was interesting the President didn’t respond because many of Romney’s facts about oil and public lands were found to be “just not accurate.”

After the debate, both agreed that now it appears there is more of a race. Lessenberry felt it might be a wake-up call to the Obama camp.

Lessenberry said Romney needs to make a case for why voters should hire him, instead of focusing on criticizing President Obama.

Howes said that’s been a criticism he’s had of Republicans for a long time.

“It's fine to critique, but you need to be positive and you need to be prescriptive and you need to lean forward... that's what voters are looking for, potential road maps to solutions," said Howes.

Of this debate, Lessenberry said, “it's easy for the challenger,” and it will be interesting to see if Obama gets more aggressive.

“Even some Republicans – Peggy Noonan - agree, that Romney is practicing what the first George Bush used to call ‘vodoo economics.’” Lessenberry wonders if Obama can be effective in his arguments against Romney’s economic plans.

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