Listen to the full audio of this event:
It only took about 15 minutes before the Twitter-verse declared Mitt Romney the winner of the first presidential debate on Wednesday night.
The near consensus remained after the debate: an aloof President Obama failed to meet expectations, while Romney came off strong by transforming back into “Massachusetts Mitt,” a more moderate version of himself.
But did the debate significantly change the race?
On Thursday evening, four political reporters gathered to dissect both candidates’ performances and what they may mean for the election at a New America NYC event in collaboration with The New Republic. Frank Foer — New Republic editor and New America fellow — moderated a conversation with Nate Cohn, staff writer at The New Republic, Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of Buzzfeed, and Noreen Malone, also a staff writer at The New Republic.
Foer kicked off the conversation with a question looming in the political world.
“Is there anything that can be said in Obama’s defense after last [night]?” he asked teasingly.
Smith argued that Obama didn’t make any major gaffes that will stick in people’s minds or replay constantly on YouTube.
While that may be true, Malone said he also didn’t do himself any favors. Obama spent no time catering to his base — he never mentioned women, Latino, or LGBT issues.
“He wasn’t controlling what was being talked about,” Malone said.
As for the reason behind Obama’s passivity, Smith said he believes the Obama campaign deliberately put the president on the defense to make Romney look “testy” and “unlikeable.”
If that was the intention, it didn’t quite work out the way they planned.
It’s true Romney steered away from his far-right message. But many — including Cohn — argue his talking points weren’t that unexpected and Obama should have been better prepared to counter them fairly easily. Foer even called Romney’s repositioning to the middle “screamingly obvious.”
Why did it take Romney so long to move to the center?
One reason, according to Cohn: Since Romney is trailing by four or five points in the national polls, it’s easier for him to go moderate without hearing complaints from the far-right.
The question now: What’s next for the two candidates?
Cohn, who crunches polling data daily for The New Republic, said debates rarely shift the polls much. But if they do, it’s almost always the first the debate that nudges the numbers. Still, even if Romney gets a bump, Obama holds a strong enough lead in key swing states that he will likely still be the expected the winner, Cohn suggested.
But there’s still one month (and two presidential debates) left before Election Day. It seems the takeaway is that the race is still anyone’s for the taking.
-by Clara Hogan