After Claiming First Debate Had Little Impact, NBC's Todd Now Says Race 'Shifted Fundamentally'

On Monday's NBC Today, political director Chuck Todd analyzed the state of the presidential race following a series of new national polls showing a slight Romney lead: "Well, look, the first debate really did sort of shift things....the numbers I've seen, and in talking to both campaigns, something shifted fundamentally."

However, only four days earlier, on Thursday's Today, Todd argued the debate was "not as helpful to Romney as he might have hoped," leading co-host Savannah Guthrie to conclude: "Alright, so the debate had maybe not as much of an impact." That was as the ABC and CBS morning shows highlighted Romney's clear momentum.

Speaking to Guthrie on Monday, Todd changed his tune: "This morning you get the sense, and just the numbers I've seen privately come over the last 72 hours, we are in a real dead heat, and you see that shift." Todd went so far as to predict that if President Obama were to lose the upcoming second presidential debate on Tuesday, "then you could start seeing momentum just continue to shift to Romney, and I think he would pull ahead in a lot of states."

Appearing on Monday's Morning Joe, Todd declared: "...for Romney, this is the debate where he could win this election....This is the debate where he could almost close it out..."

Near the end of the segment on Today, Todd similarly proclaimed: "...a win at this debate would be a debate that would put – that could put him in ahead – ahead to a point where it would be hard for the President to catch up..."

What a difference four days can make.

Special correspondent Tom Brokaw appeared on Monday's Today with Todd and urged Obama to "take the playbook page from what Vice President Biden did the other night" at the vice presidential debate:

...in one answer, talked about 47%, "Where are your tax returns?" "We're gonna cut taxes for the middle class and if you make more than a million dollars a year, you're gonna raise taxes." I see – I think that we'll see the President coming after him, saying this is the Mitt Romney today, this is a different Mitt Romney than we just saw a month or so ago.


Here is a full transcript of the October 15 segment:

7:05AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Tom Brokaw is an NBC News special correspondent, Chuck Todd is NBC's political director and chief White House correspondent. Good morning to both of you.

CHUCK TODD: Good morning.

GUTHRIE: Chuck, we'll start with you. You've seen the polls, nationally tight, Romney leading. This is, of course, an election that will be decided state by state, but how close is this race now?

CHUCK TODD: Well, look, the first debate really did sort of shift things. And at first, you know, you had a lot of Democrats that were trying to appease themselves by saying, "Oh, all the movement in the polls is just a bunch of soft Republicans who've," quote, unquote, "come home to Mitt Romney." "He showed life," and all of this. But I have to say, the numbers I've seen, and in talking to both campaigns, something shifted fundamentally.

And it's a dead heat, but it's one of these – but even right after the debate, you had the Obama campaign, "Yes, it's a dead heat, but we've got all these fundamental advantages in the battleground states," and the Romney folks would have conceded that. This morning you get the sense, and just the numbers I've seen privately come over the last 72 hours, we are in a real dead heat, and you see that shift. This means, Savannah, this debate couldn't be more critical for President Obama. Because if he loses this debate, then you could start seeing momentum just continue to shift to Romney, and I think he would pull ahead in a lot of states.

GUTHRIE: And that brings me to Tom Brokaw. Which is, we've been known to hype things in the past here in the media, but this is a very high-stakes moment for the President.

TOM BROKAW: Yeah, well I think what's been great about the debates is that they really have re-engaged the country, they're paying much more attention. I expect it will have a very big audience tomorrow night, a lot of people will be in the hall asking questions, online questions. I expect that Mitt Romney will do everything short of saying, "The boys and I will come over and mow your lawn and wash your car, if necessary." And the President can take the playbook page from what Vice President Biden did the other night, in one answer, talked about 47%, "Where are your tax returns?" "We're gonna cut taxes for the middle class and if you make more than a million dollars a year, you're gonna raise taxes." I see – I think that we'll see the President coming after him, saying this is the Mitt Romney today, this is a different Mitt Romney than we just saw a month or so ago.

GUTHRIE: We've been promised, Tom, from advisors to see a more energetic president and a more aggressive president. But that's a fine line to walk, isn't it? Because he wants to maintain the likability that he has.

BROKAW: Well, it's a tricky piece, and especially in this format. They'll be in a hall surrounded by real voters. Candy Crowley has reserved the opportunity to ask the followup questions, which I think is appropriate, when that is necessary. And so it's eyeball to eyeball, and there's a certain appeal that both men have at that. The Governor has been doing a lot of town halls around the country, but the big piece for him is to say, "I'm one of you. I get it. I know what you're going through. 47%, I made a big mistake."

GUTHRIE: Tom mentioned, Chuck, this idea that the Obama campaign has a new tact with Romney, which is to portray him as a flip-flopper. Is that a new strategy?

TODD: Well, as you know, Savannah, they had been debating for months, like do they try to run against him as this out-of-touch conservative, or do they try to run against him as a guy with no core who's a flip-flopper? And frankly they're still sort of not sure which way to go. They still prefer this ideological bent. They think that moves voters more.

But, you know, I want to go back to this town hall thing. I do believe that this is – this is going –  I've always thought this would be Mitt Romney's hardest debate of the three, this interacting with people, relating with people. This has been the trouble for him. That's why a win at this debate would be a debate that would put – that could put him in ahead – ahead to a point where it would be hard for the President to catch up, because it would – it would sort of blow up the stereotype that he can't connect with people.

TODD: Alright, Chuck Todd, Tom Brokaw, all the more reason to watch. And you – want to remind everybody you can watch tomorrow's presidential debate, 9 Eastern, 6 Pacific Time, right here on NBC.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC