Not just theatre: Preview and town-hall debate live blog


CBS poll of undecided voters: Who won the debate? Obama: 37%; Romney: 30%, Tie: 33% (Margin of Error: 4 pts.) 6% of uncommitted voters say Pres Obama would do a better job helping the middle class; 43% say Romney would.

CNN poll of all debate watchers: Who won the debate? Obama 46%, Romney 39%. This was with a sample that was rather Republican, +9% Republican.

YouGov poll: Who won the debate? Obama 50%, Romney 33%, tie 14%

Post debate: Two big moments: 1) Romney said Obama didn’t mention terrorism the day after the Libya killings, but Crowley points out he did; 2) Romney said he cares for 100%, gives Obama an opportunity to say that the “47%” comment was said behind closed doors, was what he really meant.

In my view, the oddest policy response was when Romney was asked about what he would do about employment discrimination against women and he talked about hiring women when he was governor, after he asked for resumes with “binders full of women.” Romney’s own hiring practices have nothing to do with public policies that affect women and reduce gender discrimination. Update: Evidently Romney’s story was untrue.

Both sometimes moved afar from the original question, particularly on guns.

Live-blog.  Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.

~10:34: Man asks “What is the biggest misperception the American public has about you as a man and a candidate” and take time to debunk it. Romney: I care about 100% the American people. I am motivated by my religion. Then he goes on about how he’ll do better than Obama. Obama: Misperception that I believe government creates jobs. But I believe in free enterprise and initiative, everyone needs fair shot and all should play by the same rules. Hits Romney for saying “47%” behind closed doors, spells out who those folks are, says he will fight for them. And it was Romney who opened the door for Obama to hit him on “47%.”

~10:26: Woman asks Romney question on outsourcing jobs. Romney says he supports free trade. Bring down tax rates so people will start businesses here, also cut regulations. Obama says he agrees corporate tax rate should go down but, unlike him, he wants to get rid of tax advantages that go with moving jobs elsewhere. Says Romney invested in “pioneers of outsourcing,” says he’s put pressure on China.

~10:17: Woman asks Obama what he has done to limit access to assault weapons. Obama is talking about comforting a woman whose son was shot. Says we have to enforce laws, do background checks, keep guns out of hands of mentally ill and criminals. Trying to get broader conversation, see if can get assault weapons ban introduced, but intervene to prevent violence. Romney talks about parents raising kids together, folks should get married before having kids. Crowley asks why he changed his mind on assault weapons ban.

~10:08: Man asks Obama who denied enhanced security in Libya. Obama talks about his instructions to national security team. Obama says he’s responsible. Romney says that maybe the American people were misled. After Romney criticizes Obama for going on fundraising trips, Obama says he grieved with the families and the suggestion that his team played politics was “offensive.” Romney said the administration said it wasn’t an act of error. Candy Crowley notes that Obama did call it an act of terror.

~9:58: Woman asks question about immigration. Toward the end of the question period, discussing Arizona law. Romney on self-deportation, asks why Obama didn’t get immigration law passed. At one point, Romney goes back to past issue on how his pension is invested, Obama says, “Obama to Romney: “I don’t look at my pension it’s not as big as yours.”

~9:51: Man asks Obama why he’s earned their vote. Obama goes through big set of accomplishments on health care, Wall St., taxes, national security, auto industry. Then notes plans for the future. Romney: “I think you know better.” Things won’t be better in the next 4 years.

~9:45: Woman asks Romney how he’s different from George W. Bush. He says he believes in more energy production, more free trade, balanced budget, small business. Obama: We’ve been digging our ways out of bad times, created by bad policies. Says Romney’s economic plan’s center = tax cuts and that Romney is a pioneer of outsourcing to China. He’s “the last person to get tough on China.” Administration has brought lots of cases against trade practices, twice as under Bush. Some differences: Bush didn’t want to voucherize Medicare, defund Planned Parenthood; Bush didn’t oppose immigration reform.

~9:37: Question about rectifying discrimination in the workplace. Obama talks about his mother and grandmother. He notes the first bill he signed was Lily Ledbetter bill. Romney: I hired women when I was governor. Obama notes that Romney hasn’t supported Lily Ledbetter act and Romney doesn’t support contraceptive coverage in health insurance. Notes Romney wants to defund Planned Parenthood and connects it to economic issues. This is exactly what some analysts had said he needed to do.

~9:23: Question about taxes: Woman asks which deductions Romney he would get rid of — mortgage deductions, education credits, charitable deductions, etc. Romney says he wants to bring rates down and simplify. Romney says middle-class would save $ because they won’t pay taxes on interests, dividends and capital gains — but the middle class pays almost NO tax on interests, dividends and capital gains.

Obama notes the tax cuts he’s delivered for the middle-class, but says “if we’re serious about reducing the deficit,” need more $ from the wealthy. Cites Romney’s “allies in Congress” as opposed to that plan. Romney’s response is basically that the rich will pay as much as before.

In follow-up, Obama walks through the numbers on Romney’s tax plan. Notes Romney refuses to say which deductions he’s get rid of. Obama includes fact that Romney pays a 14% rate, lower than most people there. Says imagine if someone presented Romney with business plan with such vagueness; he wouldn’t accept it and neither should American public. “You can’t buy this sales pitch.”
~9:11: Question about gas prices: Obama talks about “controlling our energy future.” Talks about a lot of different types of energy and reducing demand through efficiency, which will “keep our prices lower.” Says Romney’s vision is incomplete. Romney: Oil production has increased, but not on federal land. Now he’s talking about coal; sounds like his focus is on Ohio and PA, not this individual from New York. Frankly, neither is answering a voter who cares about how much it costs to put gas in his vehicle.

Odd moment: Candidates standing close to each other, engaging each other on coal and oil production on public lands. Neither is talking about the costs of gas for ordinary folks.

Now Obama is talking about the low price of gas and how it was connected to the recession.

~9:03: Question from college student about getting employment. Romney: Romney talks about a scholarship program in Massachusetts, but he’s not offering anything like that and, not that he admits it, but his budget would cut student loans. Says he knows how to bring back jobs, but offers no specifics. Obama: Build on 5 million jobs created, make sure your future is bright. Starts w/specifics, including auto industry (cites Romney: Let Detroit go bankrupt), education system, energy policy, rebuild America w/money spent on war.

Candidates get into it, as Romney said he didn’t want to take Detroit into bankruptcy but actually did the way Obama did. Obama pushes back on Detroit.

A poll note before the debate starts: 

Gallup finds big regional differences in support for president.

  • In the north, Obama is favored over Romney by +4
  • In the midwest, Obama is favored over Romney by +4
  • In the west, Obama is favored over Romney by +6
  • In the south, Romney is favored over Obama by +22

Those southern numbers are strong enough to pull down Obama’s national numbers.

The debate’s not just theatre

The hall at the 2012 presidential town hall debate

Listening to pundits talking about the upcoming presidential debate, if you didn’t know, you’d think they were talking about theatre.

It’s all about how the candidates come off, how they stand, if they can connect to the audience (oops, the voters).

And, of course, the theatrical is part of politics — always has and always will be.

But that kind of analysis overlooks the very real, very stark choices presented this year.

There are many issues — from health care to jobs to abortion and the availability of birth control to national security and much more.

But what sticks with me is this combination:

Republican Congressman’s budget plan + what anti-tax activist Grover Norquist said.

Back in February, Norqiust proclaimed:

We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget. … We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don’t need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate.

Norquist went on: “Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become president of the United States. This is a change for Republicans: the House and Senate doing the work with the president signing bills. His job is to be captain of the team, to sign the legislation that has already been prepared.”

The Ryan budget dismantles many government programs from the New Deal period forward. Medicare voucherized. Medicaid cut by one-third. Social Security privatized.

And every other government program — everything from environmental protection to student loans to medical research to Meals on Wheels to air traffic control to security for embassies, and many more — cut to the bone.

Taxes would be cut, with most of the money going to the top. Meanwhile, defense spending would rise.

That’s what Romney has said he’d support.

Want to know how it would affect Maine?  Read this op-ed by Professor Deprez of the University of Southern Maine.

Obama has plans as well but these build on the postwar consensus. Those policies created economic growth and opportunity, vastly lowered the poverty rate among the elderly, and created an infrastructure for a modern capitalist economy that enables people to take risk while it provides security.

So, as you watch the town hall debate, pay attention to policy and not just the theatrics.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.