Then I read this by Howard Kurtz.
While the pundits are generally calling the president’s Thursday night address mediocre, Obama and his advisers had taken great pains to avoid soaring rhetoric that might have been derided as empty.So my first question last night was to wonder whether or not perhaps the Obama campaign knew exactly what they were doing. After about 5 years of watching this President and his team, I've learned to ask that question. Over and over and over again they have certainly proven that they know more than I do about how to win elections. But they've also proved themselves better at that than any of these pundits who CONSTANTLY get it wrong when assessing President Obama.
Indeed, they extensively tested the president’s speech in dial groups, a type of focus group where voters twist dials to register approval or disapproval of specific passages, and say it tested off the charts. The reaction, they say, was more positive than to Obama’s 2008 acceptance speech in Denver.
In short, the president deliberately dialed it down, stopping well short of the altitudes he is capable of reaching. Perhaps that will prove to be a mistake, but the decision to go with a less rousing approach was carefully considered.
The campaign’s primary goal at the Democratic convention was to provide a concrete sense of what Obama would do in a second term. That was what independent voters wanted, according to the research, and that was the focus in Charlotte.
Then this morning I read a summary from a Priority USA focus group of undecided voters.
Six in 10 respondents gave President Obama favorable ratings for his overall performance in the debate, compared with just one in seven who did so for Romney.Things get even more interesting when you look at how these voters reacted to discussions on specific issues. Most of the pundits are criticizing President Obama for not going on offense and attacking Romney enough. And yet for the undecided voters in this focus group, they were the least impressed with the President's response to Romney about his tax plan - the first issue that came up and the main one where Obama engaged in a direct challenge. In contrast, they favored Obama's approach to the economy, health care, dealing with the deficit, and energy.
The starkest difference between the two candidates was in their likeability. Eight in 10 respondents gave President Obama high marks for coming across as likeable and down to earth, while very few felt that way about Governor Romney. The President came out with a distinct advantage over Romney on the important trait, “caring about people,” and respondents were much more likely to give Obama credit for being honest and truthful in discussing the issues.
Both pundits and partisans relish the idea of attack politics. That's what they want to see and that's how they judge the debates. It just might be that the Obama campaign is smart enough to know that's not the audience they're playing to at this stage. Romney needs to win over almost 100% of the undecideds in order to have a prayer of competing in this election. Obama may have shut down that possibility last night.