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Analysts say Romney, Obama debate performances should tighten race for New Hampshire’s electoral votes

Senior Political Reporterei

October 04. 2012 5:01PM

MANCHESTER -- Three days after its poll showed President Barack Obama with a 15 percentage point lead over Mitt Romney in swing state New Hampshire, the University of New Hampshire's polling director says Wednesday night's debate probably made the race for the state's four, potentially crucial, electoral votes much closer.

Republicans criticized the poll conducted by the UNH Survey Center for WMUR showing Obama leading Romney 52 to 37 percent. But center director Andrew Smith said one of several key reasons for the big Obama lead was that only 80 percent of self-identified Republicans in the state supported Rommey, while 93 percent of Democrats supported Obama.

It was clear evidence of an 'enthusiasm gap,' Smith said. Republicans were simply not as charged up about Romney as Democrats were for Obama.

'Some of the wind was coming out of the Republican sails,' Smith said, but he said Romney's performance Wednesday energized the GOP, while Obama's less than stellar _ some have said tired and lackluster _ performance may have depressed Democrats, at least for the time being.

'There were a lot of long faces around here today,' Smith said of the Democratic-dominated UNH campus in Durham.

'It was,' said Smith of Obama, 'one of the worst debate performances I've ever seen.

Dean Spiliotes, a political science professor at Southern New Hampshire University, didn't go quite that far, but said of Romney and his campaign, 'If that performance doesn't move those poll numbers, they're going to have to throw their hands up in the air.

'It was a very good night for Mitt Romney ' Spiliotes said. ' I don't think it was quite the disaster for Obama that other analysts have described it. But it was problematic for Obama in that it allowed Romney back into the game and will quiet the grumbling among conservatives about Romney.'

They agreed that with a month remaining before the election, and with two more debates on tap, this week's debate will become a distant memory by the time votes go to the polls.

Smith said the first debate 'provided a tremendous amount of energy to Republicans to say, 'We can beat this guy.'

'The enthusiasm we had seen among Republicans earlier in the year, but had dissipated in recent weeks, could come back.'

Smith said Romney 'needs to get Republicans enthusiastically behind him. If he does, they'll turn out and vote for him.' But he said the Republican 'also has to work on depressing Democratic enthusiasm.'

Obama didn't help himself by giving 'roundabout and vague' answers, and, 'His body language was such that it was clear he wasn't enjoying himself on the stage. Romney seemed to relish it.'

Obama 'is going to have to do something now to get Democrats back on board and get that enthusiasm back,' Smith said.

Spiliotes is skeptical of debates having 'a lasting impact' on political campaigns.

'Mitt Romney may get a couple of points out of this and it may last for some period of time, but I don't know that it's going to be lasting,' said Spiliotes.

Will it change the minds of independents, who in New Hampshire are now favoring Obama?

'If their issue is Romney's viability or leadership, then maybe,' Spiliotes said. 'But for those who base their decision on policy or ideology, then not necessarily.'

Spiliotes said, 'I was surprised that all of the things that (Obama and his campaign) have been trying to do to undercut Romney didn't show up in the debate. All the 'class warfare' stuff we hear Obama talk about on the stump, none of that was there, and I don't really understand why.'

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