DENVER — Republicans were singing a new tune about Mitt Romney on Wednesday night, after the GOP presidential candidate put up a surprisingly dominant performance against President Barack Obama in the first debate of the 2012 general election. Beaming surrogates from the Romney campaign flooded the media “spin room” after the debate, promptly declaring their candidate the “clear winner” of the night.
“If this were a boxing match, the referee would have called it one hour in,” Romney’s senior campaign advisor Eric Fehrnstrom told reporters. “I think the president’s heels must be worn down because he spent about 90 minutes leaning back on them.”
“This was a clear victory for Governor Romney,” he said (several times).
Romney campaign aides and top talkers fanned out across the media filing centre, sometimes lingering for nearly two hours after the debate had finished to chat with reporters and do another European radio interview.
“People can judge who did a better job,” said Stuart Stevens, Romney’s often-embattled chief campaign strategist. “People can tell who has more compassion.”
Florida Senator Marco Rubio echoed the praise. “There’s no doubt that there are millions of Americans who tonight saw a candidate in Barack Obama who has no idea how to turn this economy around, and a candidate, Mitt Romney, who has a very clear idea,” Rubio told a group of reporters. “The president tonight exposed himself as someone that has actually no clue how to get this economy turned around.”
And former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was more grandiose: “I think this is about as big a difference in the candidates I’ve ever seen in a presidential debate ever,” he said. “At least since Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.”
This almost giddy outlook represents a marked turnaround for Romney and his fellow Republicans, who have become increasingly critical of the GOP nominee in the wake of a series of campaign stumbles. Obama opened up a lead over Romney in most national and swing state polls last month, while Romney struggled to overcome his leaked “47-per cent’ remarks.
With five weeks to go until Election Day, Wednesday night’s debate presented one of the last opportunities for Romney to change the narrative around his campaign — and he definitely seized it. Now some Republicans think the performance could mark a pivotal shift in the election.
“It changes the dynamics of the race,” Ohio Senator Rob Portman told Business Insider. Portman, who played Obama in Romney’s debate prep, added that Romney’s substantive debate could even help him close in on the President in Ohio, a key battleground.
“Undecided voters already know Obama,” he said. “They needed something to convince them – and I think Governor Romney gave that to them tonight.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus seconded Portman:
“We won today — now we need to win Thursday and we need to Friday,” he said. “But today was a big step in the right direction.”
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