DENVER - A tight presidential race just got a whole lot closer.
Republican Mitt Romney, trailing in swing state polls and under withering criticism from his own party for running what has been a largely uninspiring campaign, was animated, confident and aggressive in Wednesday's debate with President Barack Obama. Romney didn't score a knockout, but he certainly appeared to win the contest on points.
Romney, who at times has appeared stiff and detached on the campaign trail, provided a winning contrast to the president, who seemed listless, defensive and off his game. In a debate that was dominated by in-the-weeds policy diatribes from both candidates and endless citations of numbers and statistics', Romney broke through with a personable and confident performance.
The debate gives Republicans new hope and energy while providing Romney the boost that his convention performance and selection of running mate Paul Ryan failed to deliver.
Obama, who has shown to be an inspiring speaker and skilled debater, lacked the passion and fire that has so often made his public appearances memorable. He didn't lose the race tonight; not by any stretch. But he certainly did not gain and any ground and more than likely lost some polling points to Romney.
Romney went on the offensive early and often, scoring points with comments about Obamacare, the economy, high unemployment and the federal deficit.
Obama called Romney on some of his campaign promises, but said little or nothing about Romney's own words and deeds: the 47 percent comment; piling up his own money in offshore bank accounts; referring to the definition of middle class voters as those making $200,000 to $250,000 a year; and saying that Obama should have let the auto industry go bankrupt.
Romney even appeared more in touch with regular voters. Anecdotes about he and is wife engaging desperate voters on the stump succeeded in showing the candidate as caring and sympathetic to the plight of regular Americans. Romney even worked Big Bird into the conversation.
As for the overall format, voters gripe all the time about not enough substance, or at least policy discussions, in modern day politics. But there's nothing wrong with a few zingers and even attacks in a debate. Let's face it, watching politicians mix it up is more entertaining than endless references to Simpson Bowles, Dodd Frank and corporate tax rates.
The pressure to perform has now shifted to the president. Look for Obama to be more assertive and aggressive in the next debate. If he doesn't, Romney will continue to gain ground.
Patrick Crowley spent 27 years as journalist, including 17 years as a political reporter and columnist for The Cincinnati Enquirer. He also wrote for Newsweek, National Journal, Congress Daily and Voter.com. In 2010 he and Jay Fossett, a lawyer and the former City Manager of Covington, launched Strategic Advisers, LLC, a government affairs and public relations firm based in Fort Mitchell, Ky. Crowley lives in Fort Thomas, Ky.