Markovits: Energetic Romney Dominated Debate

This article originally appeared in the October 4, 2012 edition of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Later in the week, Markovits offered more detail on Romney's performance and trustworthiness for the MHC Office of Communications:


By Rebecca Everett

Staff Writer

Moments after the first presidential debate of 2012 ended, Mount Holyoke College political science associate professor Elizabeth K. Markovits said that in political speech, energy is paramount. And on Wednesday night, the peppiest politician at the podium was Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

“Romney dominated the debate. He seemed really fired up, confident and assertive. He was the classic alpha dog,” she said. “Obama seemed really tired.”

During the hour-and-a-half debate, President Barack Obama and Romney presented plans and quibbled over dollar amounts in discussions of the economy, health care and the role of government.

Markovits, whose area of expertise includes the theory of political rhetoric, watched the debate at her home in Amherst. She said that although the president spoke for a total of 4 ½ minutes more than his opponent, he did not have the upper hand, in her opinion.

“He seemed tired and meandering, he didn’t do a great job,” she said. “I don’t think he convinced anyone tonight who wasn’t already a fan of his.”

While Romney’s performance was more impressive, Markovits said the substance of his speech leaves some questions unanswered.

“I think some of the details will need more time to sort through,” she said. “There were a few surprises in there, like how he said he wasn’t going to cut taxes for the wealthy and talked about embracing the Massachusetts health care system.”

His promises will probably be reworded in the coming days, she predicted. “His campaign will have to clarify,” she said. “They’ll say, ‘What I really meant by that was ...’”

One of the surprises, Markovits said, was how much Romney talked about what he sees as successes in Massachusetts — health care reform and schools. “I’ve never heard him be so proud of Massachusetts,” she said, explaining that he was likely trying to appeal to voters “in the middle” as opposed to the more conservative voters in his party.

Both candidates interrupted moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS repeatedly, but she said Romney seemed to talk over the host more.

“That can be really off-putting for some people,” she said. “We’ll see in the coming days if that gets picked up as a story line. Maybe it’ll say that female voters were put off by it, and Romney already has a problem with female voters.”

Fact-checkers will likely be working overtime to either back up or debunk Romney’s statements, she said, while most people are pretty familiar with Obama’s ideas at this point in the campaign.

Depending on what they uncover or what story lines develop, public opinion could completely change in the coming days and influence the polls one way or the other, she said. “They might say Romney seemed crazed, instead of fired up,” she said.

And some of the story lines may not be too significant in terms of determining the outcome of the election, she said, referring to Romney’s shout-out to a certain large yellow Muppet.

During the debate, Romney said he would pull the plug on government funding for PBS. “I like PBS, I love Big Bird, I actually like you, too,” he said to Lehrer.

A Twitter account started moments later, @FiredBigBird, had more than 16,000 followers an hour after the debate ended.

“I think we’ll hear a lot about Big Bird,” Markovits said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at

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