Snap polls indicate that Obama won the night. But Romney seemed to be treating the debate less as a contest than as a last-round job interview. From this perspective, his challenge was not to score points but to allay lingering concerns that might keep him from getting the position. Do some voters worry about Democratic charges of Republican belligerence? Then talk about peace and say that we can’t kill our way to victory. Do others worry that he lacks a background in foreign policy? Then recite a lot of data and display a knowledge of places such as Mali.
The latter was an unfortunate choice. A lot of viewers might have wondered why he kept mentioning some woman named Molly.
If his theory is right, though, he might have crossed the threshold with some voters. The question is whether Democrats can effectively use his remarks to attack him as a flip-flopper.
— John J. Pitney Jr. is Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.