The Roller Coaster

I’ve been remembering how exhausting election years always are. I could never survive being an actual candidate; just watching from the sidelines wears me out.

My memories of presidential debates do go back to Kennedy-Nixon, although I don’t remember that debate itself so much as I remember my father glumly predicting that Kennedy would win the election. Dad was a loyal Republican who died in 1999, and the last time I saw him he told me he was glad he wouldn’t be around for the 2000 election. Politics upset him so. Given the Florida 2000 debacle and 9/11, it may have been for the best he was gone.

There wasn’t another debate until 1976, when Ford and Carter debated. When Ford said “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration,” I remembered thinking, holy crow, he just lost the election. And he did. But the thing with that election is that the two candidates were so much alike people were reduced to flipping coins, and one good gaffe stood out sharply. It gave people something to choose by other than heads or tails.

People remember that the Reagan-Carter 2000 election was close until the debate just before the election, and then it was a blowout for Reagan. Recently I’ve read in several places that the “internal” polls already had Reagan ahead before the debates. Nate Silver’s chart shows that Reagan actually got only a 2.8 percent net polling gain, but that was enough. However, as I said, that debate was right before the election, so Reagan’s post-debate bounce peaked on election day.

At the Los Angeles Times, James Rainey reminds us that John Kerry really did mop the floor with George W. Bush in their first debate in 2004, and see how it turned the election around? Oh, wait …

In the debates since 1976, what people seem to remember most were gaffes and “zingers,” like “there you go again.” What gaffes and/or zingers do you remember from last night? I can’t think of one. This may explain the President’s caution — he was determined to not give Mitt’s people something they could blow up and use as a club to beat him with. And I honestly don’t think he gave them that.

On the other hand, Mitt’s arguments were so riddled with lies and contradictions that it should give the Obama campaign plenty of fuel for several good campaign ads. Unfortunately, the ads will consist of bringing up the points the President should have, but didn’t. And the media shouldn’t let Romney win the debate on well-told lies, but they probably will.

A big part of the problem with last night’s debate was Jim Lehrer. He was not there. Usually there is a panel of questioners who challenge the candidates, and Lehrer just sat there like a giant marshmallow. I trust the rest of the debates will be different. This one will just have to be water under the bridge.

I expect the race will tighten up in the next few days, and a few states that were solid blue yesterday may turn light blue or even pink. If only for my own sanity I would prefer that Obama just get way out in front and stay there. We won’t know for sure how much the debates “moved the needle” until early next week. And mistermix thinks Romney screwed himself badly on the Medicare question. So, we’ll see.

Update: First post-debate Obama video. What do you think?

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