I watched the presidential debate last night at Brewvies, a movie theater that serves beer and food, with an unabashedly pro-Obama crowd, (what would you expect in a glorified tavern in the middle of Salt Lake City?). They howled when Obama got a zinger in and yelled "bullshit" when Romney tried to make a complicated point on the economy.
It was entertaining and, not surprisingly, most of the people I talked to perceived it as a win for Barack Obama, noting Mitt's sickly smile, tired eyes and other non-verbal cues.
I'm sure they were crushed to learn that outside Brewvies, the debate was seen as a Romney victory and, among his supporters, a crushing defeat for Obama.
In this tight race, the trick in making sense of the debates is to try to watch them as a non-partisan, undecided, swing voter (if you ARE one of the 3 percent, it's easy). These are the people who will make the difference.
Because nobody could make sense out of the candidates' economic and medicare arguments--fact checkers are still scratching their heads--what is going to matter is which guy came across to the 3 percent as trustworthy and capable of moving the country forward.
In short, it's back to gut reactions to non-verbal cues, including that sickly smile and Obama's quips. Some swing voters, particularly struggling blue-collar workers, don't like wise-assed college profs. Other non-aligned voters were annoyed by Romney's condescending tone and bullying of Jim Lehrer.
The biggest problem for Obama to gain back ground and for Romney to capitalize on his win in the next debate is that the first debate was so often stultifying. It may take more than beer to fill the seats even at Brewvies Oct 16.