But if you dig deeper, there are some troubling signs.
The problem is the economy and the future. In the Hofstra University debate, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made a sharp critique of the president’s economic stewardship:
The middle class is getting crushed under the policies of a president who has not understood what it takes to get the economy working again…Unemployment, the number of people who are still looking for work, is still 23 million Americans. There are more people in poverty — one out of six people in poverty. How about food stamps? When he took office, 32 million people were on food stamps; today 47 million people are on food stamps. How about the growth of the economy? It’s growing more slowly this year than last year and more slowly last year than the year before.
More importantly, Romney laid out what his administration would do in a five-point plan which boils down to tax cuts and regulation lite. But it ties into his narrative that President Obama’s heavy-handed policies are crippling the economy and, for all its blatant inadequacies, may appeal to voters still on the fence.
Conservatives are correct in saying the president hasn’t provided much of a road map of where he’ll take the country. He talks about Pell grants, hiring more teachers, and other small-ball stuff. He’s not even pushing the American Jobs Act, a flimsy package of Keynesian band aids, which he successfully used to revitalize his campaign last fall after the debt limit disaster.
In a CNN/ORC International poll, debate watchers who said President Obama won the second debate also said Romney would better handle the economy by 58-40; taxes by 51-44, and the deficit by 59-36—after the president spent lots of time debunking Romney’s tax plan.
A CBS News instant poll of uncommitted voters, which also called Obama the winner of the Hofstra debate, gave the advantage to Romney on the economy by 65% to 34%. Romney is hitting hard at the president’s “vision thing” on the campaign trail.
Major Garrett of National Journal writes that Team Obama is “circling the wagons” around Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. That means the president might have lost Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Colorado in his first debate debacle.
I moved Florida to Romney and Virginia to a toss-up in my new electoral map this week.
Maybe, like Romney, the president has big plans for the next four years but doesn’t want to spell them out. Maybe he doesn’t think he can get much through Congress. Or maybe he believes that there’s not much we can do in the short run, so we should focus on the long term. “There are some jobs that are not going to come back, because they are low-wage, low-skill jobs. I want high-wage, high- skill jobs,” he said.
That’s an honest statement, but in two debates and his convention acceptance speech, the president didn’t spell out where he’d take the country over the next four years. He had more than 65 million viewers watching both debates. The last debate turns to foreign policy, so he may have missed his biggest opportunity to make his best case for a second term.