Partisans are still litigating who won Monday night's foreign policy debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney, but the snap polls are unanimous: Round 3 went to Obama. The CBS News poll of undecided voters was pretty lopsided, with Obama besting Romney by 30 percentage points, 53 percent to 23 percent; the rest of the polls of debate-watching voters — from CNN, Public Policy Polling, and Google Consumer Surveys — had Obama winning by between 8 and 11 points. The question, with two weeks left in the campaign, is: Will Obama's victory translate into more votes?
This debate was the mirror image of Obama's disastrous debate in Denver, says E.J. Dionne at The Washington Post. This time it was an overconfident Romney who tried not to rock the boat, letting Obama dominate. "My hunch is that Romney not only underestimated the cost of a play-it-safe strategy in the debate itself, but also misread the political moment." His post-Denver momentum has moved the race to a dead heat, but when it's a tie game you play to win. Obama did; Romney didn't.
Judging just by the reactions of Republicans, Romney blew it, says Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone. As I saw it, "this should be the death-blow to Romney, but I've said that before and been wrong."
The question of who won the debate overall may be misleading, says CNN's David Gergen. In "the second debate, the president clearly won and yet people came out saying that Romney would do a better job handling the economy. In this final debate the president won again, yet the [CNN] poll clearly suggests that Romney passed the commander-in-chief test." That's a big deal. And unfortunately for Obama, neither his Round 2 or 3 wins has "seemed to change the overall race."
Round 2 didn't change much, but Romney's sedate me-tooism in the foreign policy debate was so jarring that "some voters who initially thought Romney crossed the credibility threshold might have second thoughts," says Marc Ambinder at The Week. It seems pretty clear from his aggressiveness that Obama "knows he doesn't have the election sewn up," but Romney's "long explanation on the auto bailout shows that he knows why he's losing in the industrial Midwest, where the auto bailout has been Obama's most successful issue." And at this point, Ohio's the game.
The bottom line is that it's a tight race and foreign policy isn't the issue most voters care about, says Nate Silver at The New York Times. If Obama gets any bounce in the polls, it will probably be small. "Still, with the contest being so tight, any potential gain for Mr. Obama could matter," even half a percentage point.
Obama's wins in the second and final debates won't undo the damage from Romney's Denver win, say Larry Sabato, Kyle Kondik, and Geoffrey Skelley at Sabato's Crystal Ball. "The first debate gave [Romney] a chance to make a first impression, and he nailed it." Voters already know Obama. "It's possible Obama will get a decent lift from the final debate," or that the snap polls are wrong and Romney will continue gaining. "Only time, and the blizzard of polls, can say for sure."