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By Andrea Stone




President Barack Obama’s well-known gift for oratory failed him in the first debate of his reelection campaign as he faced the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney. The Democratic incumbent did so badly in the October 3 event in the Mile High City of Denver that allies even blamed his lackluster performance on altitude sickness.[1]

In split-screen shots, a defensive and tired Obama going through the motions contrasted sharply with an animated and well-prepared Romney, who was behind in the polls and needed to do well.

In a next-day analysis headlined “Obama snoozes and loses,”[2] Politico columnist Roger Simon wrote that the president “often sounded like he was defending a doctoral dissertation. His thoughts seemed to range from lengthy to endless.”

Yet for all his wordiness, Obama failed to bring up Romney’s infamous remark that 47% of Americans are freeloaders who pay no taxes.[3] Nor did the incumbent mention, as he had before,[4] the workers who lost their jobs because of deals cut during Romney’s time at Bain Capital.

Polls[5] agreed that Romney won the matchup. The Republican surged into the lead for the first time in a year.

Romney’s advantage vanished, though, in the next two debates as a chastened and newly aggressive Obama came out swinging. 

During the second meetup on October 16, a town-hall format in which voters in Hempstead, N.Y., asked the questions, Romney inartfully answered a question about gender inequities in the workplace by touting the "binders full of women"[6] brought to him when he was governor. Within minutes, #bindersfullofwomen was trending on Twitter -- and not in a good way for a candidate already struggling to appeal to women voters. 

Social media also amplified a witty Obama comeback in the third debate in Florida on October 22. During discussion of defense spending, Romney accused the president of neglecting the Navy, which was “smaller than any time since 1917.” Obama’s pithy reply: “Well, Governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets, because the nature of our military has changed.” 

The internet went wild, with 6.5 million tweets tagged #horsesandbayonets[7] posting during the debate alone. 

Obama went on to win a second term, collecting 332 Electoral College votes to Romney’s 206.

Romney’s “47%” remark:








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