Most people believe that Mitt Romney clobbered Barack Obama in last week’s debate. That number includes all those who didn’t watch the debate, as well as many who did. Most important, the people of the press, of all persuasions, reported on a focused and more accessible challenger and a dispirited and uninspiring president. As a result, the momentum has changed. It is particularly notable in the words we read in headlines. Romney is now described as energized, forceful, accessible, whereas Obama has become listless, a loner, tired. All the words add up to the new presumption that one man has fire in his belly and the other does not.
Momentum feeds on itself. The words we read and hear do affect our views of the candidates’ personalities and their performances. Momentum has a way of fulfilling itself.
And yet, what really has changed? The issues that have made the campaign so divisive have not changed. This is still an election in which we are asked to choose between two contrasting views of America’s character and its future, and as such it remains one of the most important elections of our lifetimes.
Momentum is not about changing minds. It is about exciting your base and depressing your opponent’s. And that is what is happening here. This election will be decided, not by attracting new voters, but by which party gets its people to the polls in a few swing states.
That . . . and the huge amounts of SuperPAC money about to be unleashed.