The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 4, 2012

Local debate reaction: Romney was 'human' and smoother

By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item

— SUNBURY — Wednesday night’s first debate between President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent, former Gov. Mitt Romney, harkened to the old-style of political debates, when candidates really “went after each other,” said Chris Ellis, a Bucknell University assistant professor of political science.

While noting that presidential debates historically tend to harden views already held by partisans, Ellis said that Romney effectively humanized himself in the debate, “and if that was one of his goals, he probably helped himself.

“On the other hand, while expressing the traditional Republican ideologies of less government, less taxes, he did not go into specifics about exactly what programs he would cut.”

Obama, too, had trouble expressing his vision for the next four years, Ellis said.

“As always, he is every effective in talking about people’s needs and wanting to help, but I’m not sure his ideas resonated in the same way that they did four years ago,” Ellis said. “How could it, after all? He did speak in more details than Romney.”

No one threw a knockout punch, Ellis said.

“I suspect that Democrats will think Obama won,” he said. “Just as Republicans will think Romney won. The question is, how will that sliver of undecideds move? We’ll have to see.”

Republican was polished

Michael Nailor, who last spring won the Outstanding Speech Education Award after leading his Danville High team to the Pennsylvania High School Speech League State Championship at Susquehanna University, said he looked at the debate from an all together different perspective.

“I’ll leave to the fact-checkers whether they were speaking the truth or not,” he said late Wednesday night.

“I can say that both gentlemen showed they are highly intelligent and had a good grasp of the issues,” Nailor said.

Strictly from the perspective of body language, Nailor thought Romney was “smoother, more polished. He focused more on the camera than the president did.”

Nailor also said that Romney effectively used an old debaters trick of sticking to certain factoids and repeating them over and over again.

“Whether those facts were true or not, I can’t say,” Nailor said.

He said Obama’s personal style, of hesitating while he talked, contrasted with Romney’s.

“When the president talked about people he’s met along the way, he was effective in looking into the camera and I think he connected with people,” Nailor said.

Moderator had difficulty

Ellis and Nailor said that moderator Jim Lehrer, of PBS, lost some control over the proceedings.

“I think Romney was tough on Lehrer,” Nailor said. “He would interrupt him. I don’t know how that will play with viewers. I suppose to a large degree it depends upon what you think of public television.”

The evening began earlier for party officials on both sides of the aisle  from all over the Valley — at organized TV debate-watching parties.

Clearly, the time for pre-debate conjecture and analysis was over by 9 p.m., when the debate began.

Stick to the issues

Northumberland and Snyder County Republicans gathered at the Edison Hotel, in Sunbury, to watch the event.

“I’m actually looking forward to seeing what happens,” said Beth Kremer, chairwoman of the Northumberland County Republican Committee.

Meanwhile, Pat Saylor, Snyder County Republican state committee member, said before it all started: “I’m nervous. I think (Romney will) do good if he sticks to the issues.”

Valley Dems were excited

On Packer Island in Sunbury, Democrats from three counties gathered to watch the debate as well.

“I’m glad this moment is finally here,” said Rodger Babnew, Northumberland County Democratic Committee chairman. “Now you have both the president and Romney on the stage talking to each other. People can compare two very different visions and make up their own minds.”

Seated nearby, Steve Catania talked about how his father, “a hard-worker all his life, was offended by Romney’s remarks about the dependency of the 47 percent. I’ll be interested to see how he talks about the middle class.”

Meanwhile, Jerry Ward, a Montour County commissioner, and a Democrat, said, “nothing either of these gentlemen will say will change my mind about either of them. Whether the governor wins the presidency or Obama retains his office, I don’t see anything changing in Washington until people start compromising and start working together. That is the only way to get things done and get the economy moving again.”