He was steady and authoritative, putting Romney on the defensive early and keeping him there all night. The horses and bayonets line, unanswered by a stunned Romney, is the keeper debate line of the 2012 cycle, destined to join "there you go again, Mr. President" from Reagan in 1980, and the "you are no Jack Kennedy" line from Bentsen in '88, as one of the most repeated debate lines in American history.
What was most fascinating about last night's debate happened in the first minute, though. When moderator Bob Schieffer opened the debate by asking Romney the Benghazi question, I think everyone watching assumed that this would be the biggest flashpoint and battle of the debate, that this would be the fireworks and the news coming out of the night. When Romney chose instead to immediately punt on first down and turn the very specific and pointed Benghazi question into a rambling generic answer about foreign policy in general, he stunned everyone -- and he took the biggest potential weakness for Obama on foreign policy off the table for not only the rest of the night but the rest of the campaign. If Romney didn't have the guts to challenge the president on it when the question got teed up so directly for him, how is the Romney campaign going to make a credible case against Obama on it for the next two weeks? They aren't. I don't know whether there was some kind of big campaign decision that, having swung and missed in the last debate, he just wouldn't go there, or whether Romney just flat out choked (I strongly suspect the latter) but, either way, having buried it in the debate, that issue will be very hard for the Romney campaign to resurrect.
The president fired up the Democratic troops last night. Now it is up to the troops to deliver. In the battleground states, we have to not only do the crucial mechanics of turning out the vote -- door to door, calls, early voting, visibility, friend to friend and neighbor to neighbor -- we have to fire our people up and get them motivated to vote. I have a great deal of confidence in the Obama ground game, but it won't be easy.
Poll after poll has shown that some of the most important Democratic base groups are less engaged in this campaign and less fired up about voting than they were in 2008. In fact, it is young people, unmarried women, Latinos and African Americans that have been hardest hit by economic hard times, and when you are struggling economically it is a lot harder to get excited about voting. Because of those hard times, more of the voters in these demographic groups have also been wavering in terms of the president, as well. In 2008, Obama won 69 percent of the voters in those demographic groups, but according to the new Democracy Corps poll just out yesterday, Obama is only winning 62 percent right now. In the last two weeks of this campaign, our highest strategic priority should be to focus on these voters, remind them of how terrible Romney's policies would be for them and do everything in our power to pump them up about voting and voting for Democrats.
The good news is that despite those lower numbers from our base, the DCorps poll showed Obama going into the final two weeks ahead by three, 49-46. I put a lot of trust into DCorps' numbers, as Stan Greenberg has an extraordinary amount of experience polling in presidential politics and they have the best predictive record of any poll out there. Especially given Obama's decisive victory last night and the small but steady edge in most of the key swing states, DCorps' numbers make me think we are going to win this race. But absolutely key to the endgame is appealing to and firing up Democratic base voters. Our success with those voters will determine this election.