Debates boost Romney favorables

Polls find GOP challenger gets different sort of October surprise

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But on domestic issues, where all sides agree the election will be decided, Mr. Obama said he has used the debates to give voters a framework to choose.

“You know, over the last four years, we’ve made real progress digging our way out of policies that gave us two prolonged wars, record deficits and the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression,” he said at the end of Monday’s debate. “And Gov. Romney wants to take us back to those policies: a foreign policy that’s wrong and reckless; economic policies that won’t create jobs, won’t reduce our deficit, but will make sure that folks at the very top don’t have to play by the same rules that you do.”

Instant polls showed Mr. Obama won the debate on points, and commentators on both sides of the aisle skewered Mr. Romney for failing to give a sense of what he would do differently on world hot spots.

“In fact, Gov. Romney appeared to leave a lot of his positions behind, and it does leave you with the question: What is his worldview? What does he really believe?” said Nicholas Burns, a top State Department official in the George W. Bush administration, speaking to CNN on Tuesday. “I think he’s leaving the impression that he’s not quite sure what he’d do or that he’s not being as specific as he might be.”

The Obama campaign said Mr. Romney “proved yet again that he would say anything to close the deal, no matter what his real positions are.”

But Republicans said the debate was a win because Mr. Romney again appeared measured and presidential — the threshold he needs to cross in voters’ minds in order to be a credible alternative.

During October, he also connected with voters in a way he never had before.

A day ahead of the first debate, Comedy Central’s election page was able to write a headline poking fun of the candidate’s appeal: “Romney continues to keep his humanity a closely guarded secret.”

But by the time the first debate was finished, a huge national audience saw Mr. Romney sprinkle in stories of everyday voters he had met who were struggling through the sluggish economy. The Republican’s humanity became the storyline.

Mr. Romney then took that strategy on the road, adding into his standard stump speech a litany of personal interactions, including with a woman whose husband, an Army sniper, was killed in Afghanistan, and the Boy Scout troop that sent its American flag on the Space Shuttle Challenger on its fateful last flight in 1986.

John Zogby, a pollster for The Washington Times, said Mr. Romney’s favorability surge is a significant development in the race.

“Voters got to see an option. Now that there is an option, Romney is viewed as favorably as Obama as a person,” he said.

That’s not to say Mr. Romney has no problems when it comes to relating.

In The Washington Times/Zogby Poll released over the weekend, Mr. Romney trails Mr. Obama and even his own running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, when voters were asked who is the most likable person on the Democratic and Republican tickets.

Indeed, Mr. Obama nearly doubled Mr. Romney’s rating, 40 percent to 22 percent. Mr. Ryan was rated most likable by 23 percent, and 10 percent said that honor went to Vice President Joseph R. Biden.

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