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Special> 2012 United States Presidential Election > Opinion
UPDATED: October 5, 2012
Romney Needs to Build on Strong Performance in First Debate

While Republican candidate Mitt Romney dominated first U.S. presidential debate on October 3, he must bring that energy to the next round amid an election where he is trailing President Barack Obama in the polls, analysts said.

Romney's unexpected strong performance in the debate breathed new life into his campaign, but he must continue to build on his victory, Republican strategist Ford O'Connell said.

"This was a good start, but Romney's got a long way to go," O'Connell said. "He's got to keep going, keep selling himself as a principled but practical candidate who is willing to work across party lines to fix America's problems."

Boding well for the challenger is that 67 percent of viewers said Romney won the face-off, according to a CNN poll. No candidate has topped the 60 percent mark since that question was first asked in 1984, CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said.

Still, the next debates may be Romney's last chance to turn the tide in his favor, as he is down by 3 percentage points behind Obama nationwide, according to Real Clear Politics' poll average, and by a wider margin in key battleground states.

So far, it remains unknown whether Romney's strong performance will significantly change the poll numbers nationwide and in swing states. The two candidates will hold a second debate on Oct. 16 and a third and last debate on foreign policy on October 22.

Dan Mahaffee, an analyst with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, said Romney will need to continue to reiterate the points that were successful Wednesday, especially in key states like Colorado, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin, where some polls show Obama with a healthy lead.

Those include expressing concern about the expansion of the federal government and explaining how, in his opinion, it would hurt Americans, he said.

But history is on the side of Obama, as sitting presidents tend to win elections, and only twice in history have debates changed the outcome of an election.

The first was in a 1960 television debate between then Senator John F. Kennedy and then Vice President Richard Nixon. Nixon refused to wear makeup onstage, looking sweaty and frazzled, while Kennedy seemed cool and confident. Many historians said it was physical appearance that shifted the course of the elections, pushing Kennedy ahead by four points in the Gallup polls.

In 2000, then Vice President Al Gore slipped up on a few facts and seemed smug and irritated at times while debating his Republican rival George W. Bush. Gore later narrowly lost the election.

For the next contest slated for later this month, the challenger must steer clear of a number of fish hooks and bear traps, such as getting bogged down in policy minutiae. When that happens, the average voter gets lost in the discussion and the president comes out the winner because he is leading in the polls, some analysts said.

As for Obama, many analysts and pundits said he put on a particularly poor performance. CNN's Candy Crowley said Obama brought his C game, and other pundits and analysts said the president appeared irritated, looking as if he did not want to be there.

Obama must be sure not to repeat those same mistakes in the next engagement, and must bring the debate to Romney, analysts said.

"Moving forward, I think President Obama needs to respond to what many will see as a good performance by Governor Romney, which, when combined with tightening polls, may be adjusting the narrative in this debate," said Mahaffee with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.

(Xinhua News Agency October 4, 2012)

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