Mitt Romney's debate win: Will it really change the race?

The Week
Mitt Romney speaks during the presidential debate at the University of Denver on Oct. 3: Romney seemed to handily outperform President Obama during their first debate, but it remains to be seen how much that'll change the narrative.
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Mitt Romney speaks during the presidential debate at the University of Denver on Oct. 3: Romney seemed to handily outperform President Obama during their first debate, but it remains to be seen how much that'll change the narrative.

The GOP candidate was declared the undisputed winner of his first bout with President Obama, but his strong performance still might not do much to boost his numbers

When Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) predicted on Sunday that Mitt Romney's stellar debate performance would give us "a brand-new race with 33 days to go," he was derided for not getting the memo about lowering expectations for his candidate. Now, after Wednesday night's debate, elated Romney supporters, as well as some less-partial observers, are hailing Christie as a bold visionary: There is an unusually strong consensus among pundits and insta-polls that the revved-up Romney beat an oddly low-key President Obama handily in their first debate. But while Christie is decidedly correct that there are 33 days before election day, will his soothsaying about Romney turning the candidate's lagging poll numbers around come true?

Romney failed to seal the deal: Obama was thrown off his game by the "Massachusetts Mitt" who showed up to debate him, suddenly "obsessive about portraying himself as a moderate," says Jonathan Chait at New York. But "the instantaneous, echo chamber reaction that is handing Romney an overwhelming victory is overstated." In selling his magical, pain-free policies, Romney sometimes veered "from smooth to oily." Obama played it too safe, and "if Romney was winning, and Obama needed to disqualify him," that would matter. But Romney isn't winning.
"The return of Massachusetts Mitt"

SEE MORE: 8 memorable moments from Obama and Romney's past debates

Obama just threw the race: I'm a huge Obama fan, but this debate "was a disaster for the president for the key people he needs to reach," says Andrew Sullivan at The Daily Beast. Romney appeared authoritative and persuasive — "my gut tells me he sold a few voters on a change tonight" — while Obama came across as "meandering, weak, professorial," even boring. And his decision to pull his punches won't help him with independents. Obama blew it, big time, and "may even have lost the election tonight."
"Live-blogging the first presidential debate 2012"

The debate at least changed the narrative: The media coverage coming out of Denver will be "solidly pro-Romney," and that will "move the horse race polls, at least a bit," in his direction, says Jonathan Bernstein at A Plain Blog About Politics. How much and for how long? That depends some on "whether Team Obama will be able to counterattack" effectively. But in the end, this was a dull, numbers-filled debate with no big gaffes and no great zingers. Add in "that there aren't all that many undecided voters out there," and my guess is that "significant shifts, even in temporary bounces, are not all that likely."
"Colorado Debate"

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Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

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