The Incumbent Curse Strikes: Obama Falls to Romney in Debate

The president seemed peeved and flat, while his challenger went on the offensive in Denver.

debate1romney.banner.reuters.jpg
Reuters

Call it the curse of incumbency. Like many of his predecessors, President Obama fell victim Wednesday night to high expectations, a short fuse, and a hungry challenger.

If Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney didn't win the first of three presidential debates outright, he more than covered the spread. He was personable, funny, and relentlessly on the attack against Obama.

The president looked peeved, flat, and -- this is the incumbent's curse -- for the first time in four years had to carry a conversation with somebody telling him he's wrong.

"Going forward with the status quo is not going to cut it for the American people who are struggling today," Romney said, stealing the mantle of change Obama wore so well in 2008.

The former Massachusetts governor also reminded voters repeatedly that the president has not lived up to promises he made four years ago. After Obama vowed to reduce the deficit in a second term, Romney replied, "You've been president four years."

"You said you'd cut the deficit in half. It's now four years later. We still have trillion-dollar deficits," he said. Time is up was the message for voters.

To be fair, the deck was stacked against Obama, who came into the debate with a lead over Romney plus plenty of baggage.

Voters expect sitting presidents to win debates and, indeed, polls showed that Obama was heavily favored Wednesday. That benefits a challenger like Romney who grows in stature simply by standing next to the president.

Romney helped himself by looking directly at Obama when he answered questions. Obama looked at moderator Jim Lehrer, which on screen made it appear like he was speaking to the ground.

Romney smiled and cracked jokes ("I like Big Bird!"). Obama smirked.

Presented by

Ron Fournier is editorial director of National Journal.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Politics

Just In