Watters: With back to wall, Romney delivers shining performance in Denver


Arabella Watters, Assistant Forum Editor

It’s official: Mitt Romney is finally running for president.

Despite the fact that he accepted the Republican nomination in less-than-pleasant Tampa more than a month ago, for the first time in this long, laborious and unnecessarily dramatic campaign, Romney emerged as a man I could actually imagine leading our country. Election Day is barely a month away, but better late than never.

Last week I skewered Romney for his incompetent articulation and his inability to appeal to any mass demographic. It is no secret the Republican Party has had a hard time finding a candidate that is likable, articulate, normal and — although it does not seem like a lot to ask — sane.

On Wednesday night, we saw Romney in a whole new light. He was not the bumbling, over-privileged wealth monger that we have seen in the past. He did not say anything blatantly offensive and kept his foot mostly out of his mouth. Perhaps this debate was merely a case of good timing. After more than a year on the campaign trail, including months spent in an endless series of debates against his Republican primary challengers, maybe Romney has finally learned how to conduct himself.

When I logged onto Twitter tonight to simultaneously listen and live tweet, I was expecting President Barack Obama to come out the way he usually does: shining, charismatic and relatively untouchable in his oratorical abilities. Although I am not exactly the world’s biggest Obama supporter, I will be the first to say that I do have a huge amount of veneration for him as a speaker. Our president can command a room like nobody else, and his presence instantly draws respect. That being said, I was perplexed (pleased, certainly) by Obama and Romney’s interactions during the Wednesday’s debate.

Both candidates walked in patriotically dressed for their parties in their red and blue ties.  Despite moderator Jim Lehrer’s insistence that the audience remain silent, the eagerness in the air was palpable. I think America wanted to see if Romney could even attempt to take on Obama. They wanted to hear Obama reassure us that he has a plan for the next four years and things will get better.  Secretly, many tuned in waiting to see if Romney would say something stupid. And when Romney joked that he loves Big Bird but would not hesitate to cut funding for “Sesame Street”‘s home on PBS, those viewers got exactly what they wanted.

What I do not think anyone expected was for Obama to look down, to speak woodenly, to sound more like a law professor, meticulous in his detail, but lacking in magnetism as he addressed the audience and his opponent. He did flash a few winning smiles, but they were not winning enough to make up for Romney just about oozing political charm out of his pores.

For the first time this campaign, and it does not matter whether you are a liberal or conservative, there is no denying that Romney can say “mission accomplished.” Romney was about what policies he wanted to change, starting like a flash of lightning when he came out of the gate with a clear-cut five part plan. The plan included increased energy independence, trade with Latin America, stricter policies against China, a balanced budget and the championing of small businesses (Obama’s attempt to offset this proposition by inexplicably bringing in Donald Trump fell flat). Romney also made it clear the way he felt about Dodd-Frank, Obamacare and the education system. No matter what you believe about those policies, it would be moot to deny that as Romney backed up his ideas, he sounded downright credible.

Romney’s humanity, or as much humanity as politicians can possess, showed; for a candidate previously perceived as out of touch, I think that is going to make a whirlwind of a difference.

I concede that I would lose a little credibility myself if all it took was one thoughtful and stylized debate to changed my mind about Romney’s election potential, but Romney’s ability to grab the bull by the horns and give his ideas a little more backbone started to convince me tonight. Shortly after the debate, CNN reported that 67 percent of voters say Romney won the debate, while a mere 25 percent gave it to Obama. I’d say America might be a little bit more convinced as well.

Arabella Watters is a Medill sophomore. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].