Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Romney's momentum can help him win

By William J. Bennett, CNN Contributor
October 25, 2012 -- Updated 1408 GMT (2208 HKT)
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
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1221 GMT (2021 HKT)
Carlos Moreno says atheists, a sizable fraction of Americans, deserve representation in Congress.
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 1625 GMT (0025 HKT)
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
August 31, 2014 -- Updated 0423 GMT (1223 HKT)
William McRaven
Peter Bergen says Admiral William McRaven leaves the military with a legacy of strategic thinking about special operations
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
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
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
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
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
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
September 1, 2014 -- Updated 1554 GMT (2354 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
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?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
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
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
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?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
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.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
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
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
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
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
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.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
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
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
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.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
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
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
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