The Evolving Obama Debate Panic, New Mexico Edition

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 8 2012 2:16 PM

The Evolving Obama Debate Panic, New Mexico Edition

ALBUQUERQUE -- As I head out of this state, it feels like the damage from Barack Obama's whiffed debate has been done. The cake is bake. The pie is cooled. The cliche is verbalized. On Friday, as I followed a labor volunteer along on a door-to-door canvass, I heard half a dozen Democrats say they'd vote for the president -- but oy, about that debate, what happened? On Saturday, at the Navajo Nation parade in Shiprock, where he was campaigning for U.S. Senate, Rep. Martin Heinrich had moved past spinning and into... well, a different kind of spinning. 

"I've seen that dynamic before," he said. "An incumbent president's not used to being challenged. What I've seen is whether it was Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan, he came out shaky, then came out swinging hard in the second debate. This is an incredibly talented president. He knows what he believes, and you're going to see a dramatically different performance in the second debate. And in any case it's not going to produce the numbers that Mitt Romney needs."

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That same day I tagged along with former Rep. Heather Wilson, the GOP's candidate for that seat, as she worked a UNM tailgate. The blown debate kept on breaking into conversations, like some town tragedy no one could stop gossiping about. "It was like he was melting down in front of us!" Wilson told one voter. I nagged Wilson a bit about the gaping poll gap in this state -- Democrats' big leads -- and she wondered what might happen "if Mitt Romney had two more nights like that."

Slowly but remorselessly the Wheel of Expectations turns.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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