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No one expected US President Barack Obama to perform so poorly in the first election debate on Thursday. Perhaps not even his rival Mitt Romney. The debate proved that Romney is in the race because a poor performance would have written him off. The Republican candidate was clear, focused and convincing on the issues he addressed, while Obama seemed distracted, absent-minded and not emotionally connected. Romney won because he had to, after a series of faux pas, and Obama failed because he was too confident and underestimated the capabilities of his rival.
Obama’s failure and Romney’s success could be interpreted in a thousand different ways, which is what media and political pundits are currently doing, but the plain, undisputable fact is that the prospect of Romney gaining further traction would make most people outside the US queasy.
A Reuters report from Brussels said Obama’s underwhelming performance has provoked uneasiness in European capitals, where hopes are pinned on his winning a second term. In the Middle East too, many would prefer Obama to continue in the White House due to the jingoism of Romney and his blatant pro-Israeli policies. On most foreign policy issues from Afghanistan to Syria, Obama has a more pragmatic approach which at least wouldn’t complicate the situation in the conflict zones, whereas his rival’s policies have been shaped by partisan, narrow and rigid approaches. It’s true that Obama has flagrantly reneged on the promises he made to Muslims, like closing down the Guantanamo and finding a solution to the Palestinian issues, but Romney would fare worse on all these issues.
Obama will now have to fight hard and would need running shoes, not flip-flops. Losing the debate doesn’t mean he would lose the election, but he could. After the debate, Intrade, an online prediction market, cut Obama’s re-election prospects from 74 percent to 66 percent. That could plunge to 60 and 50 percent, unless the president works hard to reverse the losses.
What happened on Thursday was first of the three presidential debates. There are two more left, and this time Obama will be under tremendous pressure to regain the lost ground, in the same way as Romney was under pressure in the first debate. The president can derive satisfaction from some positive economic data which came out yesterday. According to reports, the unemployment rate in US fell to 7.8 percent, which is the lowest level since Obama took office.
Romney’s surge in opinion polls shows the importance of debate in US presidential election. It’s not enough to be a good president, it’s equally important that he must prove it in a debate.