If President Obama was criticized for being lacklustre in his first debate performance, he seemed to have over-compensated with an overtly aggressive tone in the October 17th Presidential Debate in Hempstead, New York. The questions covered a slew of domestic policy subjects, but candidates used their two-minute time limit more to attack their opponent than put forward a substantive plan.
In this debate more than others, both Obama and Romney focused on the Undecideds, mostly the women, many of whom are still undecided. A Gallup poll done for USA Today highlighted Romney’s increased traction amongst women voters, especially among the working class who care more about jobs and debt, despite their traditional backing for Democrats.
During the debate, President Obama referred to the Lily Ledbetter Bill – one that allows women to file a lawsuit in the event of unfair pay. Interestingly, the bill doesn’t make equal pay mandatory. He attacked Romney on contraceptive care and his abortion views. Governor Romney retaliated by describing his intentional recruitment of women to his state government but his efforts may have fallen flat amidst ironic comments like more flexibility for women’s work schedules so they have time to “make dinner for the kids.” One wonders whether the ‘flexible schedule’ extends to men in the same position as well.
The climax of the night was easily the tense exchange between both candidates on the consulate attack in Benghazi. Romney’s accusation that Obama’s administration misled the nation on the nature of the attacks led to a not-so-subtle rebuke from the President – “…the suggestion that anybody in my team…would mislead when we’ve lost four of our own is offensive.”
These debates are meant to sway undecided voters. But over-reliance on statistics to put the two candidates on the spot and retaliations of “that’s not true” leave voters awkwardly looking for the facts and unsure of which candidate is right. Undecided voters constitute almost 6% of the electorate, so their votes make the difference. Most voting is determined by now, given the increased rate of early voting, higher than in previous elections – especially in Iowa where 40% of the ballots have already been cast. Clearly, the race for the undecided is pressing, and with one debate left, the window is closing.
The debates sure are theatrical, but whether the candidates have successfully persuaded any of the remaining Undecided, will only be known come Election Day.
Advait Praturi is the diaspora liaison at Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations.
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