By MARSHA MERCER
We have an “October surprise,” and it’s Mitt Romney. He lives.
An October surprise is an unexpected event that could change the outcome of a presidential race. It’s premature to say Romney’s strong showing against President Barack Obama in the first presidential debate will alter the course of this election.
But Romney is not the dead man walking he seemed just a week ago.
Republicans are thrilled and Democrats chilled by the Denver debate. If Romney was the winner, who was the biggest loser?
Not Obama, who earned his party’s scorn for his lackluster performance, or even Big Bird, endangered as he’d be in a Romney administration. Romney said he’d cut PBS funding, even though he loves the Sesame Street character.
The biggest losers were TV viewers hungry for clarity on issues facing the country. They went to bed without supper.
Presidential debates are aimed at winning undecided or swing voters. About 6 percent of voters supposedly are still up for grabs. Their presidential decision got harder, not easier, after a debate that raised more questions than it answered. Romney and Obama batted erroneous facts and figures at each other like tennis balls.
Commentators across the political spectrum agreed that Romney shone and Obama stumbled Wednesday night. Point by point, Romney shed his image as Prince of the Remote Rich, coming across as smart, deft and worried about the middle class. Who knew?
Supposed front-runner Obama looked uncomfortable. It obviously has been a while since anyone questioned or challenged him up close. The next day, though, he was on the campaign trail, pounding Romney.
Analysts chewed endlessly on the night’s great bafflement: How could Obama go 90 minutes without once mentioning the magic words “47 percent,” the group of Americans Romney recently said feel they are victims, entitled to government handouts and will vote for Obama.
As surprising as it was to see an aggressive Romney take it to a defensive Obama, though, political theater won’t help anyone pay college tuition, find a job or cope with real life problems.
After the debate, fact checkers gloried in the wealth of inaccurate and untrue statements from both Obama and Romney.
“We found exaggerations and false claims flying thick and fast,” reported nonpartisan FactCheck.org.
“The debate was wonky without being especially honest,” the Washington Post editorialized.
Obama and Romney “spun one-sided stories in their first presidential debate, not necessarily bogus, but not the whole truth,” said the Associated Press.
Obama claimed that Romney has a plan to cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans by $5 trillion. Not so, Romney declared, insisting that he will curb tax breaks to make up the costs. He hasn’t said which ones.
Romney claimed Obama doubled the deficit. Fact checkers say he didn’t.
Obama claimed health care premiums have gone up more slowly than any time in the last 50 years. Nope, say fact checkers.
Viewers knew early that the ever-smiling Romney was on his game when he likened the president to a prevaricating lad.
“Look, I’ve got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true, but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it. But that is not the case, all right?” Romney said.
About Romney’s tax plan, Obama said, “For 18 months he’s been running on this tax plan. And now, five weeks before the election, he’s saying that his big, bold idea is `Never mind.’”
Romney, honed by a countless debates during the GOP primaries and extensively prepped, trotted out three- and four-point plans galore. Obama showed the rust of not debating in four years.
David Axelrod, a top Obama aide, said on MSNBC that Obama was trying to have a conversation with the American people and he was “treating the American people as adults.” Really?
Adults deserve – and should demand -- substance from their politicians. This election isn’t over. There’s time for policy details. The vice presidential debate is Thursday in Kentucky and the two remaining presidential debates are Oct. 16 and 22 in New York and Florida.
Stay tuned. October could bring more surprises.
© 2012 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.