The Presidential Debate at Hofstra

Round two of the Presidential debates, town hall style, was held last night. Plenty of anticipation, with Democrats looking for President Obama to rebound from his lackluster performance in the first debate. I think the President gave Democrats some reasons to smile last night. My own observations.

1) Romney does not like to be challenged. I thought that on a couple of occasions he looked like he had CEO complex. He was just going to issue directives, and everyone on the stage was going to comply. When they did not he was very put off. The moderator had to direct him to sit down at one point. That is a negative stylistic point.

2) Even conservatives seemed dissatisfied with the Romney approach on Libya. He was corrected by the moderator on the issue of whether President Obama had characterized the Libyan attack as a “terrorist act”, and seemed to lose a handle on what has been perceived as a politically winning issue for him. A negative substantive point for Romney.

3) Although the President finally answered the Romney charge on energy leases on government property (many leases discontinued on a use it or lose it basis) I think Romney tends to win this argument on the basis of high energy prices. He hits at President on this despite domestic energy production being on the upswing. Here is the chart.

Domestic Crude Oil Production

Graph on Domestic Crude Production

CNBC did a fact check on both production, and production on federal lands. Here is what they found:

In 2008, the year before Mr. Obama took office, sales of crude oil produced on federal lands totaled 575 million barrels. The number jumped to 642 million in 2009, and 739 million in 2010. But public lands include “lands” offshore. And following the Deepwater Horizon disaster on April 20, 2010, the Obama administration declared a temporary moratorium on offshore drilling. Largely as a result, sales dropped to 646 million barrels in 2011—the 14 percent drop Mr. Romney cited.

The 2011 figure was still higher than it was when the President took office, however. And analysts have predicted when 2012 is over, the number will be higher still. In fact, a Citigroup report says “production is bouncing back” since the moratorium was lifted, and this year the U.S. “could well recoup the depletion it lost since 2010.”

The Romney claim on leasing is misleading. The Deepwater Horizon disaster was not President Obama’s fault, and output necessarily had to go down after that. But overall U.S. domestic oil production is at its highest level since 1998, and while that is not all attributable to President Obama the Romney charge that the President has been a drag on energy production is flat out wrong. Despite that, from a political perspective, I give Romney an advantage. High energy prices cannot help the President.

4) The $5 trillion question (again). Romney’s response to a request for specifics on his tax plan was to say “of course the numbers work”, because I say they do. He offered the idea of limiting deductions in some way, allowing taxpayers to compile a “bucket” of deductions that would be capped. (He mentioned a cap of $25,000) A quick fact check on that idea shows that it doesn’t even come close to paying the full cost of the proposal. From the Washington Post wonkblog:

When asked what tax breaks he’d get rid of to pay for his rate cuts, Romney suggested that “everybody gets $25,000 of deductions or credits.” That is, rather than get rid of individual deductions or exclusions, he’d have a total cap.
The problem is, a deduction cap at a $25,000 level wouldn’t come close to paying for the $5 trillion in rate cuts. The Third Way calculates that it would only generate $730 billion in revenue. Lowering the cap would raise more money, but it would risk hitting middle-class taxpayers, which Romney has also sworn not to do. So doesn’t resolve the central conundrum of Romney’s plan.

Romney’s answers on this are nothing short of ridiculous, and the President scored him pretty well on the subject. Romney essentially is saying two things.

1) My numbers work because I have balanced budgets in the past, and I am a businessman.

2) My numbers work because President Obama’s numbers are terrible.

Neither explanations work. Edge to President Obama on both style and substance.

Finally, and I think most importantly, the President made the necessary contrasts with Mitt Romney in the areas of immigration and women. We have seen Romney really try to narrow the gaps he faces with these constituencies,(hispanics and women) and he may have been having some success after the first debate. I think President Obama righted that ship politically, and you may see those gaps start to widen again in the President’s favor. That is speculation on my part, and we shall soon see polling data to confirm or rebut. But the President was not going to allow the far right positions taken by Mitt Romney during the Republican primary season to go forgotten. His associating Mitt Romney with the Arizona immigration law stung Romney, who desperately tried to get away from that position. He failed. The equal pay for equal work, and the Planned Parenthood attacks by the President, in my opinion, will resonate with women, and help the President. Romney’s binder full of women comment will make him the object of ridicule, and has shown to be a false claim. Check out the twitter feed hashtag #womenbinder for some of that humor. Big advantage, politically and on substance, to the President.

So overall I think the President takes the edge in this debate, and I do believe that he may move the needle in his favor as a result. Of course that polling data is right around the corner. Anyone know what state David Paleologos is hanging out in lately?

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