Analysis of the Second Debate and New Poll Numbers

President Obama had a strong debate performance last night. He had to and all of his advisers knew he had to. He came through in true fashion (and without a teleprompter). Obama’s strong performance shouldn’t have surprised anyone. We all knew he was capable. And he delivered.

But Governor Romney also delivered another very solid debate. No surprise there either. I rated last night’s debate as a tie. Post-debate, I switched among various channels, and the response was pretty much uniform: 1) President Obama did much better than the first debate; and 2) Governor Romney had yet another strong performance, with no mistakes or surprises.

The mainstream media will hand last night’s victory to Obama by a nudge, mainly due to the fact that he was so much more engaged than in debate #1. But they cannot ignore the fact that Romney had another solid performance. Last night’s debate also ended the notion that candidates cannot get controversial in a “Town Hall” format. Both candidates got controversial in the first few minutes.

The question I think the media will debate most over the next 2-3 days is why President Obama was so detached in the first debate and so much more formidable and engaged in debate #2. We’ll have to see how that question is answered. No doubt there will be some interesting suggestions on this question.

But the real issue is how does last night’s debate – essentially a draw – affect the polls? Governor Romney has enjoyed a significant bounce in the polls since debate #1. He has at last jumped to a marginal lead in the national polls, and he has moved up in most “battleground” state polls. It will be most interesting to see how the polls shift in the days just ahead.

Will President Obama get a boost from his performance in last night’s debate? Or will Romney’s bounce from debate #1 and his equally strong performance last night continue to grow his lead? There is no way to know. Then there is debate #3 next Monday night. If I had to guess, I would expect the third debate to be another virtual tie.

If so, this race is probably going to come down to the wire. In all likelihood, we may not know the outcome of the race until very late in the night on November 6 – if even then. Romney has had a very strong last two weeks in the polls; even the liberals acknowledge that. How President Obama’s comeback in last night’s debate will affect the polls remains to be seen.

What is certain is that time is running very short to change undecided voters’ minds. And we know that the undecided voters tend to break for the challenger, not the incumbent. The key words here are “tend to.” Every election is different. It is said that in almost every presidential election, some previously dependable rule is broken.

If we assume that both Romney and Obama have a good performance in the third and final debate, we may all be biting our nails on election night. On the other hand, if Romney’s current surge in the polls continues – maybe, maybe not – it could be a long night for President Obama and the Democrats.

As Spencer and I asserted in this Election Blog a few weeks ago, the most important thing Romney had to do was establish himself as a “credible alternative” to Obama. He has done that in spades. Now we’ll see if he can close the deal. The American people will decide.

Now let’s take a look at the national and state polls. The current RealClearPolitics national aggregate has Romney up 0.6%. More interesting, however, is the Gallup seven day rolling average that has Romney over 50% for the first time, 51-45. Romney is also polling very well with rural voters across the battleground states, pulling an impressive 59% according to a poll conducted for NPR. This type of rural strength helps to offset the advantages that democrats can enjoy in the more urban areas.

The Romney surge has pulled PA, NH and NV into the battleground state category. Romney, previously trailing in PA by 12, is trailing by four in the most recent poll. NH was considered to be a lock for Obama but the state is now favoring the president by a slim one point 50-49. Looking out west to NV, Romney and Obama are neck and neck, within one to two points of each other in the last several polls. A NV based post-debate focus group shifted overwhelmingly toward Romney last night.

FL, NC and VA all look to have shifted toward Romney as he is now consistently leading in those states. As always, OH remains ground zero and Obama continues to hold a slim one point lead there. WI also remains well within reach for Team Romney, they trail by a mere two points in the state.

The third and final presidential debate is this coming Monday, 10/22. Be sure and tune in, it will cover foreign policy and with the Libya issue center stage you just know there will be some serious fireworks.

*Some political trivia: Every presidential candidate leading in the Gallup poll in mid-October has always gone on to win.

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