Romney rallies, a 'true horse race' begins

DENVER, Colo. — It had the aura of a post-game college football locker room after a major conference upset.  Previously pokerfaced journalists were instantly giddy.  Yes, you heard that right. Giddy. The underdog had won in a landslide.

Coming into Wednesday night???s first presidential debate, Republican nominee Mitt Romney faced a huge challenge.  Down three points nationally???but further in key swing states including Colorado???he had a major job on his hands.

To win, he had to prove he was likable and trustworthy.  At the same time, and under the awkward glare of a well lit stage???he needed to communicate to tens of millions of Americans watching from home that he should be taken seriously as the best pick for bringing our nation out of tough economic times.  Smile too much, he was doomed. Too much passion would be seen as a quick temper.  Especially with the majority of Americans who before the debate expressed ???unfavorable??? impressions of him.

Fortunately, for Romney, he didn???t just pass the test.  He aced it.  At least according to the so-called liberal media who called the contest for him a mere hour after the debate wrapped.  It was CNN???s Wolf Blitzer who first reported the nation???s response.  According to his network???s own poll, a full 67 percent of registered voters who watched the debate said Romney won.  Another 25 percent called it for Obama.  Just 8 percent remained uncertain.

Perhaps selfishly motivated by the prospect of a jump in ratings, or maybe just excited by the prospect of a true horse race, hundreds of reporters stationed in the media center adjacent to the debate jumped to their feet before the candidates had even completed their respective remarks.

Responding to tall placards printed with notable political names, including Rubio, Axelrod and Guiliani, reporters swarmed to the red (a.k.a. GOP) signs to get the first takes from the debate.  While articulate Obama adviser David Axelrod???s blue sign drew a big crowd, other Democrats selected to give post-debate interviews were not quite so lucky.  At more than one point, Republicans Rudy Guliani and Sen. Marco Rubio were surrounded by more than 100 reporters each.  The handful of Democratic notables lucky enough to draw an audience were lucky to have one or two cameras shoved in their face.

Obama???s loss was the result of a mix of factors.  While his introduction included a sweet reference to the fact that Wednesday marked his 20-year anniversary with his wife, Michelle, he never managed to take off from there.

His opening call for all Americans to engage in ???Economic Patriotism??? (to protect the middle class, of course) caused ferociously typing reporters to pause and raise eyebrows at each other for a moment.  ???What is that???? they all seemed to be saying in union.

Romney greeted the awkward moment, ready to pounce.  But unlike in the past, with a non-plastic smile on his face.  He congratulated the Obamas on their anniversary and got right to work.   Certainly, it wasn???t all roses.  Romney interrupted beloved moderator Jim Lehrer too aggressively and Obama displayed only mildly better manners. As one pundit speaking off the cuff noted, ???It???s as if they thought Lehrer was a replacement NFL referee.  They tried to push Lehrer around and they both just looked like bullies.  He deserves respect.???  Unfortunately, Lehrer never seemed to fully control the debate.

Beyond this criticism, however, Romney owned the stage.  For locals who were on hand for Obama???s ???historic??? 2008 acceptance speech in Denver, the outcome was that much more stunning. Not only had Obama???s promises of ???Hope and Change??? not materialized but tonight the presumed heir of Ronald Reagan???s ???Great Communicator??? crown floundered not only in what he said but how he said???or couldn???t say???it.

Here was Obama, the same man who with mere weeks leading up to the 2008 November contest promised to balance our nation???s budget by cutting military spending.  On Wednesday night???s Denver stage, his message had turned 180 degrees: we need to raise taxes to pay for our military.  As more and more voters are saying, he can???t have it both ways.

Of course, Obama sans Teleprompter led many committed Romney supporters pre-debate to proclaim that he would flounder without being kept on message.  Many reporters rolled their eyes.  Obama would do fine.  And then show time arrived.

Obama???s cadence was off like never before.  Between the ???uhms??? and the ???ands??? and the awkward transitions between ideas, it was clear that he was either exhausted or unprepared.

While Romney was arguably too aggressive and his face showed the lines of a man who has spent months criss-crossing the nation in a tireless bid to win the White House, he didn???t skip a beat???or miss an opportunity???to call out Obama???s alleged failures as President.

Issue after issue, Romney pounced and won. According to a survey he cited, a full 75 percent of small business owners say that that Obamacare will make them less likely to hire new workers. Obama???s response? He???s not just worried about small business owners, he???s also worried about families fearing they???ll go bankrupt should they face a healthcare emergency.  Perhaps Obama misspoke, but the connection???or disconnection???was clear.

Obama thinks about ???families??? and ???small business owners??? as two separate classes. He says he supports small business owners but moments later, he defends his support for a radical policy change that will make small business owners foot the bill for an estimated $2500 per family premium cost increase that the Congressional Budget Office anticipates will result from the Affordable Health Care Act.

Perhaps most startling was how badly Obama defended his record on education. As Romney articulated, Obama???s nearly religious push for public financing of ???green energy??? firms has resulted in as many as half of these enterprises shuttering within just the last couple years.  Romney, meanwhile, referenced his role as governor in a state that tops the nation in educational performance not once, but twice.

According to his own analysis, 2 million teaching jobs could have been added to our nation???s schools as an alternative to the corporate handouts and tax breaks that resulted from the President???s green energy strategy.

Some analysts are blaming fatigue, or concluding that Obama???s frequent blinking or seeming uncertainty about which camera to look into, can help explain the lackluster response from viewers.  The mainstream national media, however?  They didn???t buy it.  This was a man they first began courting years before he successfully took claim of the White House in 2008.  They have seen him at his best.

In coming days, and ultimately throughout the four weeks remaining before the election, Obama???s team must successfully convince America to believe again.  ???Do you trust me???? he asks voters through his TV ads.  Maybe.  Voters have now been given new material to mull it all over.  Reporters, on the other hand?  Tougher to convince.  Tonight???s Romney victory wasn???t just an upset, it was a true game changer. And as they say in the world of sports, game on!

Jessica Peck is a contributor to Human Events.