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U.S. Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question as he debates President Barack Obama during the second U.S. presidential campaign debate in Hempstead, New York, Oct. 16, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
My operating theory of this race has been that it was over when Republicans allowed Mitt Romney to be defined as an asshole, elitist, out-of-touch vulture capitalist over the summer. He had lower favorabilities than any other Republican presidential nominee in history (or at least, since polling was invented), with nothing in his personal story or issue portfolio to turn those numbers around.
Goal Thermometer
I also argued that the debates would provide Romney little room to grow, as he'd be forced to be aggressive—reinforcing his "dick" negative image. Ha ha, I assumed that President Barack Obama would deliver a credible performance as well, which obviously didn't happen. It wasn't that Romney wasn't a dick in the first debate. He was—he interrupted and acted haughty, smug and entitled. It was just that Romney's demeanor was completely overshadowed by Obama's implosion.

Thus, instead of ending the race at a time when Romney was running low on cash and GOP intensity was dropping, Obama managed to reinvigorate Romney's candidacy and GOP intensity. Oh well. People have bad days, and sometimes those bad days come at the wrong time. This one gifted Romney a 4-5 point bump in the national polls and about a 2-3 bump in the States That Matter.

Regardless, no matter what the national polls said, Obama still led in the battlegrounds. Sure, the margins were tighter, but fact was that the president still led where it mattered despite suffering the worst blow to his campaign. That first debate, as good as it was for Romney, still wasn't good enough for victory.

You wouldn't know it from the angst from our corners. For a crowd that likes to say "act like we're 10 points down!", we saw them collapse in a puddle of hysteria being just 1-2 points back. If Obama was actually 10 points back, I suspect they'd be jumping off bridges.

This story, however, has a happy ending. It has something to do with last night's debate, below the fold.

We're on pace for 2-3 times as much traffic today at Daily Kos than we had the day after the first debate. Fact is, no one rallies around a loser, but boy, do we get amped up for a winner! So we had to endure two weeks of liberal hysteria at a time when frankly, the data didn't support the panic. Going from big leads to narrow leads was clearly cause for concern, but didn't fundamentally alter the dynamics of this race—Romney still needed to run the electoral board to win. And the fact that Ohio remained steadfastly in Obama's corner made Romney's task essentially impossible.

Last week, Joe Biden came in and put Mitt Romney's intern in his place, and that started calming liberal nerves, but it was up to Obama to reset the race. And clearly, he did so last night. In fact, Obama was so dominant that he cleaned up the snap polls despite them all sporting heavy GOP samples.

But more important than the substance of the debate—the lies about his binders of women (which even if true would be fucking weird), his disastrous Libya moment, his insult of Latinos by calling undocumented immigrants "illegals," his bizarre claim that single mothers drove crime—was Romney's demeanor.

I watched CNN's feed because of their dial focus group of undecided voters. You see, this panel has a little knob device. If they like what they hear, they turn it up. If they don't, they turn it down. CNN splits the results into male and female respondents, and let it play at the bottom of the screen as a line graph.

One thing you see very clearly is that these undecideds really hate personal attacks. That's why Obama stayed away from the 47 percent stuff in the first debate. Even yesterday, when it was brought up, the line dipped as these undecideds frowned at the attack. But it was really Romney who had a rough time with this group. Every time Romney interrupted, his dial group numbers would dip. When he jumped all over Candy Crowley because he wanted more rebuttal time for some question, they sunk into the gutter. Every time he whined about the rules, they would crater.

There was a moment when a lady asked Romney the difference between him and George W. Bush. Here's how the exchange played out:

MR. ROMNEY: Great. Thank you. And I appreciate that question. I - I just want to make sure that - I think I was supposed to get that last answer, but I want to point out that I don't believe —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don't think so, Candy.

MR. ROMNEY: I don't believe —

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I want to make sure our timekeepers are working here.

MS. CROWLEY: OK. The timekeepers are all working.

Here's an undecided woman looking directly at Romney, asking him a serious question while upwards of 60 million Americans are watching, and Romney blows her off to whine about the rules. The dial group absolutely pummeled Romney during this exchange, as they did when Romney got into Obama's face about the oil leases.

By the middle of the debate, the dial group had decided they didn't like Romney and punished him with tepid responses to even his better answers. See what had happened here?

People realized that Mitt Romney is a dick. Some of them realized this for the first time. Others had their already existing feelings validated. Either way, this debate highlighted Romney's biggest negative.

And that could be the lasting legacy from this debate. Romney had gone a long way toward improving his favorabilities after the first debate. They'll go backwards after this one. And no matter how unhappy people might be about the economy, fact is they'll vote for the guy they like over the guy they don't like every single time.

That's why I never worried despite the left-wing hysteria over the past two weeks, and that's why I'm particularly pleased about last night. As long as Romney is unable to display empathy and the ability to connect with other carbon-based life forms, his chances for the White House are nil.

Still, the better Obama does, the better Democrats down-ballot will do. So chip in $5 to Obama so he can keep the momentum going!

One last point: Remember that stuff about connecting with human beings? After the debate, Romney was swarmed by his family, and they quickly high-tailed it out of the debate hall. Meanwhile, Obama was still in the hall signing autographs and taking pictures with audience members 20-30 minutes after the debate was over. They had to push him out the door so they could shut the place down.

So if you're wondering which guy will have more empathy for you, which one looks better? The guy who can't bear to stand being around other non-wealth units, or the guy who hangs around until the lights got turned off? The difference couldn't be more stark.

Originally posted to kos on Wed Oct 17, 2012 at 09:51 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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