Mitt Romney (l), as Republican presidential nominee, and Barack Obama (r), as US President/AP
By Michael Cass | The Tennessean
Political analysts in Tennessee said Republican challenger Mitt Romney more than held his own in the first of three debates
with President Barack Obama on Wednesday but that little had changed in
the political dynamics of the campaign heading into the final month.
90-minute debate in Denver mostly focused on the economy. Obama began
the night by trying to frame the choice for voters in terms of the
future, not his difficult first term.
"The question tonight is not where we've been but where we're going," the president said.
But Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, said financially downtrodden voters deserve better.
"Going forward with the status quo is not going to cut it for the American people who are struggling today," he said.
Geer, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, said
Romney outperformed Obama in the early moments of the debate and
overall, but not enough to make a difference.
"Romney has a slight edge," Geer wrote on a live blog on Tennessean.com a few minutes before the debate ended. "Race is unchanged by this debate."
Clinton, another Vanderbilt political scientist, said Obama rebounded
from a slow start by the end of the first hour but that Romney "came off
better" in the end. Kent Syler, an assistant professor of political
science at Middle Tennessee State University, agreed that Romney
succeeded at looking presidential.
Syler, who was a top aide to
former Democratic U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon of Murfreesboro, said both
candidates struggled at times to get beyond numbers.
spending a lot of time talking about statistics. They need to better
connect with middle-class voters and convince them they understand their
lives and their problems. People need to be comfortable that they 'feel
their pain.' "
Local watch parties
Before watching the
debate at Lipscomb University, about 200 people used wireless "clickers"
to indicate what they expected to happen. While 58 percent said they
either planned to vote for Romney or were leaning toward voting for him,
55 percent said they expected Obama to win the debate.
was serious at Lipscomb's Shamblin Theatre as students watched the
debate on a big screen and several smaller screens in an atmosphere that
organizers said was designed to be nonpartisan.
Kristin Hackett, a
19-year-old student from Brentwood, said she was undecided. Hackett
said she leans toward the Democrats on social issues and toward the
Republicans on economic policy.
"The economy ranks high, but I
would say things like birth control, abortion and gay rights are my
biggest issues," Hackett said. "Personally, I am pro-life but ... I
don't feel I can tell people what their choice has to be. Birth control
should be an option for every woman. And I am for gay rights because I
want to see equality."
Mario Hernandez of Nashville, a 25-year-old
graduate student in civic leadership, said he wanted to see how the
candidates would respond in a live debate. Hernandez said he considers
himself an independent.
"If I had voted in the last election, I
would have voted for Obama. But with him having four years and not much
of a sign of a recovery for the economy, it makes me lean toward
At a Nashville Tea Party event near Opryland, the mood was much more partisan.
roughly two dozen people at the event wrote around 400 postcards to
prospective voters in Ohio, cheers greeted Romney's points and boos and
hisses erupted when Obama spoke.
Gallatin resident Dianne Denson
said she expected this type of debate from both candidates and was
impressed with Romney's performance.
"He's making very clear and concise points," she said.
Local tea party president Ben Cunningham said Romney was aggressive, which was more than what he originally expected.
was really very pleased how he focused on the role of the free market,"
Cunningham said. "That really is the main difference between the
Chris Devaney, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, said Obama gave "a dismal performance," while Romney shone.
thought Gov. Romney did an excellent job and showed why he deserves to
be the next president," Devaney said. "I thought Barack Obama was
ill-prepared, and it really showed why he's not prepared to lead the
country into the next four years."
But Bill Freeman, a top Obama fund-raiser who attended the debate, said the president won the debate.
plans laid out were distinctly different," he said, "and the president
talking about growing the economy from the middle class out, that seemed
to have a strong resonance in the auditorium."
Staff writers Nicole Young and Brian Wilson contributed to this report.