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Expert Available: Romney Recovered Ground, but No ‘Knock Out’ Punch in First Debate Says MU Expert

Oct. 04, 2012

Story Contact(s):
Timothy Wall,, 573-882-3346

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Mitchell McKinney, University of Missouri associate professor of communication in the College of Arts and Science and internationally recognized scholar of presidential debates, analyzed last night’s presidential debate.

“This first match-up between President Obama and Gov. Romney produced no ‘knock out’ punches nor any ‘game changing’ gaffes or mistakes,” McKinney said. “Both candidates’ supporters will come away from this first debate proclaiming their candidate as the ‘winner.’ Overall, Mitt Romney’s performance was likely strong enough to silence the critics of his campaign, those from within his own party, and re-energize his supporters. The results of the debate weren’t too surprising. History has shown that incumbent presidents often have lackluster performances in the first debate.”

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How well did the candidates defend their platforms and address their opponent’s criticisms?

“In several instances President Obama failed to respond to a number of direct Romney attacks, such as Obama’s energy policy or his inability to reduce the federal deficit,” McKinney said. “Obama also seemed to pass on an opportunity to take on Mitt Romney over entitlements. There was a clear opening for Obama to point out Romney’s 47 percent remark, yet the president made no mention of this.”

“Mitt Romney seemed full of facts and figures this evening, working hard to combat his ‘not enough specifics’ charge,” McKinney said.

How did Pres. Obama’s physical presence compare to that of Gov. Romney?

“Barack Obama’s deliberative approach often seemed halting compared to the more energized Romney who approached the debate with a sense of urgency tonight.”

“Obama’s nonverbal cues seemed to mirror his reluctance to directly confront Romney’s attacks. Throughout the debate, Romney directly faced the President during his responses, yet Obama infrequently faced Romney.”

In 1992, McKinney consulted with the Commission on Presidential Debates, advising the Commission on how debates could be structured in order to better educate citizens on significant campaign issues. The co-author of The 1992 Presidential Debates in Focus, he has co-authored and edited five books and numerous research articles on presidential debates. He also advised the presidential debate commission of South Korea as Seoul officials planned their 2002 televised presidential debates.