President Barack Obama So the debates are over, and after 270 minutes of partisan disagreement, we've learned some important lessons. First debates matter a lot. Second debates matter some. And third debates, maybe, not so much?

As we all know by now, Gov. Romney's superior performance in the first debate upended this race and may have put him on the cusp of becoming the next president of the United States. If Romney wins this election, it will be because of that first debate.

The second debate, regardless of whom you think won, did little to change the dynamics of the race. While President Obama did much better, he was unable to reverse Romney's momentum. At best, Obama's second debate performance may have stanched the bleeding, but even that isn't clear.

As for the third debate, let's not sugarcoat it, President Obama won decisively -- at least on the topic of the evening, foreign policy. That's good news for Obama and bad news for Romney. (However, yes, there is a "but" coming later on.)

Obama was strong and forceful throughout when discussing his foreign policy record and vision. He was aggressive, and was clearly determined to put Romney on the defensive. Obama successfully used Romney's previous statements to not only undercut Romney's foreign policy bona fides, but to make his own record look better. If the president had a weak spot, it was that he seemed almost too determined to critique Gov. Romney.

Conversely, Romney was strongest -- as we predicted -- when he tied his answers back to the economy, deficits and jobs. In point of fact, he didn't do this nearly enough. He also came across as tougher on Iran than the president, one of the few areas in which he seemed to best Obama. Romney was also very measured and careful -- maybe too careful. It's clear that Romney's debate strategy this time around was to avoid gaffes and paint himself as a safe alternative not just to American voters in general, but to women voters in particular.

All in all, Obama won most of the exchanges, and landed a memorable zinger or two. Romney made no major mistakes and avoided saying anything that would have crippled his campaign. Both candidates also seem to have accomplished their primary goals. President Obama looked presidential and strongly defended his economic and foreign policy record. Governor Romney, too, came across as presidential, but emphasized a starkly different vision for the economy, while all but bear-hugging the president on foreign policy. So both did what they aimed to do: The question is what will matter most for voters when they cast their ballots on Nov. 6?

But, (yes, here it is) the bad news for Obama, and good news for Romney, is that winning this debate may not matter very much.


Based on the focus group AOL assembled to watch the debate Monday night, while Obama won the debate, he did not win over undecided voters. In fact, only two voters in the AOL focus group changed their minds -- one for Obama, the other for Romney. This was not a critique of the president's performance. Rather, it was a reflection of the fact that undecided voters didn't think this debate or foreign policy issues, in general, influenced how they should vote.

That AOL focus group seems to confirm a simple political truth we've all long known: When the nation is facing tough economic and fiscal problems, voters are far more fixated on local issues than global challenges. As James Carville so memorably said, it's about the economy, stupid, and Monday's debate seemed to confirm this theory once again.

So the president may have indeed won the final debate Monday, but we'll have to wait and see whether the few remaining undecided voters were paying attention to it -- or even care. Based on our focus group, it doesn't seem they did -- which suggests this race will remain close right to the bitter end.

That means 14 more days of harsh 30-second ads, highly orchestrated campaign events, carefully scripted stump speeches in swing states, and an onslaught of conflicting polls.
And you thought it was finally over.

Chris Kofinis is a Democratic strategist. Frank Luntz is a Republican pollster and strategist. AOL has an elections content partnership with Chris Kofinis and Luntz Global.

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3109 Comments

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dee

Why was Obama always looking down when speaking ,was he reading ???

October 27 2012 at 8:16 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Ruthie

Obama was rude. Every time he shot a putdown (which was every time he opened his mouth) I disliked him more.

October 25 2012 at 4:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Ruthie's comment
mdartemis

It is hard not to be appear rude when responding to someone vetted by the GOP who is lying like a dog with his pants afire and acting like a first class dumb ass in front of the entire nation. I'll take intelligent and brutally honest anyday. Pardon the POTUS if he seemed rude.

October 26 2012 at 9:35 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Educator

I hope all you 1 liners have substance to back up your reasons for voting for Romney. Are these 1 liners because you have nothing to say or that you "silently" know the truth that Obama has put in place good programs and deserve 4 more years to make a continuous improvement for the American people-even you. So all you check your facts, there are plenty of good things the Obama administration has done and continues to do. If you want to be taken seriously, give more info than just 1 liners. Don't forget, if you don't make over 1m, you are a part of the 47% that Romney don't care about.

October 25 2012 at 9:46 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
Hardworkingwomen

Educator,
You posted very good information to those that are not aware programs offered by the Obama Administration. I too used the "Making Home Affordable Program". I'am in the IT field and many jobs were sent across seas once Bush got in office, this caused myself and many of my colleagues to be out of work. Now, I get a call almost everyday for a job ( no exaggeration). My husband is now study for his PMP through the WIA program offered through the DOL, which is funded by the Obama admininstrator.
PLEASE BE CAREFUL ... do your research...some of the monies the President is spending is ON THE MIDDLE CLASS!!!

October 24 2012 at 11:52 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
jayrussj

Sandy, you really need to learn to spell and check your facts if you want to be convincing.

October 24 2012 at 10:47 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
sandybuggy68

I am middle class! and dont forget who started this mess. Bush jr, corprate ceo's that wanted more money and banks that wanted more money. Jobs were going over seas long before Obama took office, and if the jobs weren't going over seas they were just gone, all in the name of big business, Ceo's wanted more money in thier own pockets sothey downsized and sent jobs away from America reguardless of the fact that they were hurting America. That sounds like treason to me. Do you think those republicans who put more money in there pockets care about what that is doing to thiers and our country? Do you think they care about you? the cooks brothers said that the work force should only make the minimum wage and tha if they could they would do away with the minimum wage

October 24 2012 at 10:46 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
sandybuggy68

I can not believe everyone has forgotten how we got in this mess in the first place. Big corperations started to down size so they could put money in there own pockets, Big corperations started to ship jobs overseas to put more money in thier own pockets, Big corperations started to take retirement funds, (enron) How many got away with it? Instead of pushing for renewable energy sources the repubicans pushed for foriegn oil and Bush jr endorced hydrogen for vehicles and we dont have the technology or a concret car ( in case it blows up) if you havn't seen the documentery on Who killed the electric car, you really should. Banks made it hard to get morgages them they gave out morgages for homes that people could not afford with the flexable rate. They knew what they were doing. Remember when Regan was in office, housing rates were over 18%. Now I'm not blind and I don't wear rose colored glasses. Not everything Obama has done has been perfect. I don't think anyone who take that office will be perfect. But at least He doesn't have a hidden agenda, and he is trying to make the US and us better. the houing market is getting better, rates are way down. I just refinanced my house for 2.5% on 15 yrs. Not to shabby. the job market is slowly getting better but that isn't the fault of our president. that issue was preexsisting.

October 24 2012 at 10:35 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
mybigbuck101

WATCH OUT MIDDLE CLASS. WHAT IS THE MIDDLE CLASS?

October 24 2012 at 10:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
KATHI AND JOHN

where's the good news about how great our president is doing? oh I'm sorry can't find any either.....mmmmmmm

October 24 2012 at 6:15 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Ronald

Here are five facts about the Massachusetts economy from Romney’s 2003-2007 tenure:

1. Ranked 47th in job growth: Despite Romney’s professed expertise in creating jobs, Massachusetts ranked 47th in job growth during his time as governor. The state’s total job growth was just 0.9 percent, well behind other high-wage, high-skill economies in New York (2.7), California (4.7), and North Carolina (7.6). The national average, meanwhile, was better than 5 percent.

2. Suffered the second-largest labor force decline in the nation: Only Louisiana, which was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, saw a bigger decline in its labor force than Massachusetts during Romney’s tenure as governor. The US Census Bureau estimated that between July 2002 and July 2006, 222,000 more residents left Massachusetts for other states than came to it. That decline largely explains the state’s decreasing unemployment rate (from 5.6 to 4.7 percent) while Romney was in office, according to Northeastern University economics professor Andrew Sum. At the same time, the nation as a whole added 8 million people to the labor force.

3. Lost 14 percent of its manufacturing jobs: Massachusetts lost 14 percent of its manufacturing jobs during Romney’s time in office, according to Sum. The loss was double the rate that the nation as a whole lost manufacturing jobs. In 2004, Romney vetoed legislation that would have banned companies doing business with the state from outsourcing jobs to other countries.

4. Experienced “below average” economic growth and was “often near the bottom”: “There was not one measure where the state did well under his term in office. We were below average and often near the bottom,” Sum told the Washington Post in February. As a result, the state was more comparable to Rust Belt states like Illinois, Michigan, and Ohio than it was to other high-tech economies it typically competes with.

5. Piled on more debt than any other state: Romney left Massachusetts residents with $10,504 in per capita bond debt, the highest of any state in the nation when he left office in 2007. The state ranked second in debt as a percentage of personal income. Romney regularly omits those statistics from his Massachusetts record, instead touting the fact that he balanced the state’s budget (he was constitutionally required to do so). He wouldn’t be much different as president: his proposed tax plan adds more than $10 trillion to the national debt.

So, whats Romney gonna say this time?

October 24 2012 at 5:17 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Ronald's comment
freethedems2012

What about the Chicago thugs who are Obama's friends?

October 24 2012 at 9:17 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply