Frank J. Donatelli: The Race Is Very Much Up for Grabs

The candidates Wednesday evening sparred over a variety of economic topics, laying out far different plans to deal with job creation, taxes, and deficit reduction. Mitt Romney focused on growing the economy, empowering the private sector and implementing tax reform. President Barack Obama argued for tax fairness and strategic government investments in energy and education. Partisans on both sides were probably satisfied with their candidate’s responses.

Both candidates also went into considerable detail discussing their health-care plans. The problem is that Obamacare is widely unpopular, so most of this discussion probably benefited Mr. Romney.

An interesting aside was the exchange on Medicare where Mr. Obama actually blamed higher costs for private health plans versus Medicare on the private sector’s need to make a “profit.” Like most big-government advocates, he sees profit as something added to price rather than the residue of lower costs through competition. Under that view, government can do anything better than the private sector because it doesn’t have to make a profit. Hence his consistent preference for government over private solutions.

Mr. Romney was most effective discussing families he has met who have been hurt by the economic downturn. He also scored when he cited current unemployment and growth statistics which are poor by historic standards. Mr. Obama filibustered on many answers and seemed annoyed more than once by Romney and even the mild-mannered Jim Lehrer.

It was a debate played between the forties, no huge mistakes but plenty of detailed issue discussion. This race is still very much up for grabs.

As you evaluate the post-game polls remember: Believing a candidate won or lost the evening is not the same thing as changing their vote for the long term, and that’s the criterion that counts.