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
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1819 GMT (0219 HKT)
As a woman whose parents had cancer, I have quite a few things to say about dying with dignity.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1304 GMT (2104 HKT)
David Gergen says he'll have a special eye on a few particular races in Tuesday's midterms that may tell us about our long-term future.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1452 GMT (2252 HKT)
What's behind the uptick in clown sightings? And why the fascination with them? It could be about the economy.
October 31, 2014 -- Updated 1301 GMT (2101 HKT)
Midterm elections don't usually have the same excitement as presidential elections. That should change, writes Sally Kohn.
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1539 GMT (2339 HKT)
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
October 30, 2014 -- Updated 1832 GMT (0232 HKT)
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2103 GMT (0503 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2125 GMT (0525 HKT)
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 2055 GMT (0455 HKT)
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
October 29, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
ADVERTISEMENT