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Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaks at a Colorado Conservative Political Action Committee meeting in Denver Thursday. Romney rose to the occasion Wednesday with a strong debate performance.
CHARLES DHARAPAK/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Date published: 10/5/2012
WASHINGTON--Both men relish the wonky talk in their own way. Mitt Romney, like an executive making a forceful sales pitch, shows an easy confidence that suits a presidential contender. Barack Obama sounds like a long-winded professor a tad annoyed at having to go over this stuff one more time for the students in the back.
For viewers of this year's first presidential debate one takeaway was clear--if you want detailed discussion of the issues, not just zingers, expect to sit through 90 minutes of some pretty dry stuff.
"The impression you leave with is, wow, this whole economy thing is complicated, and these are two people who are knowledgeable about the details," said Jennifer Mercieca, a Texas A&M associate professor who studies political discourse. "That can only serve Romney well, because he looks as knowledgeable and presidential as Obama does."
Other things learned from the first of three Romney-Obama matchups: When the pressure is on, Romney rises to the occasion. He knows how to accuse his opponent of deception while still sounding civil. With a thin lead in the polls, Obama prefers to play it safe and pull his punches. Romney sounds smooth and in command. Obama's style is sometimes halting, as if he's pausing to reflect mid-sentence.
Viewers Wednesday night also learned that Romney can deploy a joke without sounding awkward. And he can maintain a pleasant half-smile for a heroic amount of time. Obama's grin is toothy and sincere but rarely comes out onstage.
Neither man is gregarious or particularly warm; no Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton here. They share a managerial style of leadership and the assurance and self-regard of Harvard men. Each can seem prickly when challenged. But Romney controlled it better.
"I think Romney did it just right. He was aggressive without being perceived as annoying or disrespectful," said Robert Denton Jr., head of the Communications Department at Virginia Tech.
With Obama, Denton said, "There was a little bit of a tone there, a little bit of an edge. He sounded a little frustrated at times in terms of the forcefulness of the explanation."
The rivals' next two outings will be different, no doubt.
Reacting to the harsh reviews, Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod was already saying on Thursday that his team would "take a hard look at this" and "make adjustments" in the president's debate strategy.