Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Romney's momentum can help him win

By William J. Bennett, CNN Contributor
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu October 25, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • William Bennett: President Obama was aggressive in final debate, but it may be too late
  • Bennett: Some pundits think Mitt Romney acted more presidential than Obama
  • He says the electoral map is shrinking for Obama while expanding for Romney
  • Bennett: Barring any surprises, Romney will likely keep the momentum

Editor's note: William J. Bennett, a CNN contributor, is the author of "The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood." He was U.S. secretary of education from 1985 to 1988 and director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President George H.W. Bush.

(CNN) -- All three presidential debates are now in the books and the race to the White House is taking its final shape. Looking back, the first debate was undoubtedly the watershed moment of this campaign and the most powerful inflection point in the race to date.

President Obama regained some lost ground in the next two debates, including Monday night's event, but the damage had already been done. Mitt Romney now carries the momentum into the home stretch.

Like in the second debate, Obama came out Monday night more aggressive and more provocative. He threw more punches and landed more punches, centering his attacks on trying to characterize Romney's foreign policy as amateur and reckless. But there was an air of desperation in his delivery. It was as if he knew he needed to not just defeat Romney, but to destroy him. He fell far short of that bar.

Opinion: Obama in command; Romney plays it safe

Decoding body language from final debate

Obama was helped, however, by Romney's peculiar pass on contesting Libya and the Benghazi catastrophe while also not taking Obama to task for the timetable and withdrawal from Afghanistan.

William Bennett
William Bennett

Romney's repeated agreement with Obama on issues like drone strikes and keeping U.S. forces out of Iran and Syria in any way may upset some conservatives. But we are at a different time and place in the foreign policy psyche of most Americans. The country is war-weary, wants the troops to come home and doesn't want any form of intervention in another country. Romney had to reassure voters that he was not interested in nation-building and provoking or initiating foreign conflicts.

He accomplished that very well. It was a different test for a different time for a Republican candidate. He distanced himself from President George W. Bush and offered his own vision for the Middle East. Or as he put it, the United States should "help the - the world of Islam and other parts of the world, reject this radical violent extremism."

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Perhaps foreshadowing the last two weeks of the presidential race, Romney used the debate to move to the center. He emphasized peace and diplomacy and avoided at all costs any hint of sending U.S. forces to future wars. Romney also looked and acted presidential. He had a steady, levelheaded confidence and avoided any snarky, patronizing "horses and bayonets" moments.

Obama used the final debate to go to the left and energize his base, attacking Romney at any opportunity while throwing in comments about teachers and classroom size -- a clear signal to his strong base with the teacher's union. Obama offered little on his plans for a second term and spent much of the debate hammering Romney.

Opinion: Was Obama too relentless with Romney?

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney depart the stage after the debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, on Monday, October 22. The third and final presidential debate focused on foreign policy. See the best photos from the second presidential debate. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney depart the stage after the debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida, on Monday, October 22. The third and final presidential debate focused on foreign policy. See the best photos from the second presidential debate.
The final presidential debate
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: The final presidential debate Photos: The final presidential debate

That may be why some commentators think Romney acted and appeared more like the president and Obama the challenger. One of the central facets of the Obama campaign was to define Romney as an unacceptable candidate, which they did relentlessly in states like Ohio. Yet, Romney's first debate performance shattered that image. And through the rest of the debates, he proved that he is not the man they said he was; he is not a warmonger or greedy vulture capitalist.

Now, Obama is racing to put the genie back in the bottle. The electoral map is shrinking for him while expanding for Romney. Paul Begala recently admitted the Obama campaign has given up on North Carolina. Meanwhile, GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan recently campaigned in Pennsylvania, a state once thought to be totally out of the reach of Romney and Ryan. According to RealClearPolitics.com's electoral map, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania are now toss-up states and North Carolina is leaning Romney.

With the wind at this back, Romney can now consolidate his resources in the most crucial states -- Ohio, Virginia, Colorado and perhaps even Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. And with the foreign policy debate in the rear view mirror, he can get back to the economy -- his strongest issue and advantage over the president.

Opinion: So, who's going to win?

In the latest WSJ/NBC poll Romney has a six point advantage on which candidate is better at dealing with the economy, a seven point lead on jobs and unemployment and a whopping 13 point lead on fixing the deficit.

Romney has the momentum. Barring any October surprise, he will likely keep the momentum. With less than two weeks to go, it may matter less what Romney and Obama say but where they say it. That will tell us all we need to know about how the campaigns feel heading into the home stretch.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of William J. Bennett.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:21 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
updated 12:25 PM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Democrats and unions have a long history of mutual support that's on the decline. But in a time of income inequality they need each other more than ever
updated 12:23 AM EDT, Sun August 31, 2014
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
updated 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:54 AM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 1:22 PM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT