When Mitt Romney is elected the 45th President of the United States in 11 days, historians and scholars will look back to the 1st presidential debate in Denver, Colorado as the pivotal point in the race.
For several months prior, the Obama campaign had spent hundreds of millions of dollars seeking to destroy the character of the former Massachusetts Governor rather than run on a record that had largely failed to keep many of the “Hope and Change” promises from four years ago. When both candidates for president appeared before 70 million of their fellow citizens for the first presidential debate in Denver, the contrast between the two men could not have been more apparent.
Rather than appearing as the heartless plutocrat content to enact tax cuts for the rich while causing cancer patients to lose their health care coverage and die, the former Massachusetts Governor appeared confident, knowledgeable, upbeat and capable of governing the country. More revealingly, Americans were able to witness an exchange between two candidates without media spin, soothing words uttered from a teleprompter or pre-screened audience members who would swoon and cheer on cue.
More than anything else, the American people were able to see the real Barack Obama – a man they had never seen before. The Obama on stage at the Denver debate was listless, arrogant and gave the distinct impression that he wanted to be anywhere than on the stage with Governor Romney. To this point, the president’s disdain and dislike for his republican opponent was palpable – the sunny embodiment of Hope and Change was nowhere to be seen that evening.
Worst of all for the president, the former Massachusetts Governor came to the debate prepared. Prepared to discuss the serious issues facing America, prepared to outline his vision of leadership and prepared to confront the president on promises he made which had not been kept. While Romney was respectful to the office of the President, he was not intimidated to debate the current occupant of the Oval Office about which man had the better vision and temperament to lead the country for the next four years.
In 90 minutes, the current president looked small when compared to the confident man who sought to replace him. While Obama looked tired and went through the motions of what his second term would entail, Romney looked excited by the prospect to guide America and was specific about his goals and aspirations.
In one night, the entire direction of the campaign had changed: the mirage of Obama’s invincibility had been irretrievably shattered. In offices, hair salons and water coolers across the country, the conversation shifted from the inevitable re-election of President Obama to what four years of a Romney Administration would mean America.
In my mind, there is only one reason why the Romney surge is real: On October 3, 2012 millions of Americans watched the two leaders who sought to be the next President of the United States. One man was likeable and offered a strong path forward to American excellence and the other man was not and did not.