In the wake of the first presidential candidates’ debate, it’s now a three-way race.
The biggest surprise of the evening was the appearance of a new Mitt Romney. Those who were expecting the old Romney of the primaries and the campaign since the Tampa convention in August (read: Democrats) were disappointed when the new Romney showed up.
The Republican nominee came out well prepared, energetic and aggressive and, most important for him, he exceeded expectations, particularly in contrast to President Barack Obama, who often appeared hesitant, flat and defensive. Neither the President nor the moderator pressed the Republican nominee for details.
Moderator Jim Lehrer and his format were quickly trashed and so was his employer when Romney said as president he would eliminate public funding for PBS even though he admitted he likes Lehrer and Big Bird.
The self-described “severely conservative” governor of Massachusetts was replaced by a moderate bipartisan candidate who finally embraced Richard Nixon’s advice to run hard to the right for the nomination and reverse field toward the center for the general election.
He got a free ride from Obama on key differences between them. The President let Romney repeatedly accuse him of wanting to cut $716 million in Medicare benefits while failing to correct the charge and point out the Medicare cut proposals by Romney’s own running mate. The incumbent also never mentioned Romney’s comment about cutting off 47% of the voters, his advice to undocumented immigrants to self-deport, his desire to eliminate the inheritance tax on his fellow multi-millionaires, his proposals to privatize Social Security, his call for letting the auto industry go under, and his Massachusetts record.
Even former Republican chairman Michael Steele was stunned when Obama failed to call out Romney on distortions of the President’s policies. Not even when he accused the President of lying.
The Obama campaign has declined to focus on Romney’s flip-flops because it wanted to keep the focus on him as an extreme conservative captive of the GOP’s tea party rejectionists and not risk letting him appear more centrist, but it’s time for a change. It’s time to begin playing clips contrasting the old Romney and the new Romney. It’s now a three-way race of Obama vs. Romney vs. Romney.
That could be on display in next week’s vice presidential candidates’ debate, when Democrat Joe Biden will have an opportunity to show the contrast between Republican Paul Ryan and the new Romney and prod the tea party congressman to defend his running mate’s new positions.
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