President Barack Obama brought a renewed vigor among voters on the University of Wisconsin’s campus Thursday as he distanced himself from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and highlighted the importance of voting to an audience 30,000 strong.
During his visit to Bascom Mall, Obama focused on Romney’s performance in Wednesday’s debate, opening his speech by saying, “I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney [Wednesday].”
Obama’s speech highlighted differences between Romney’s performance in the debate and prior statements the former governor has made during his presidential campaign, citing Romney’s $5 trillion tax cut plan and federal funding of education, among other examples.
According to UW political science professor David Canon, this strategy fared well with Obama’s audience.
“It was very effective in terms of how he was able to turn [Wednesday's debate] into something that was explainable to his supporters,” Canon said.
Canon added Obama’s speech was tailored for a liberal crowd, a demographic one would address in a different manner than the national audience he faced in Wednesday’s debate against Romney.
Contrary to the president’s performance in the debate, Canon said Obama went on the offensive at Thursday’s event, attacking Romney for his inconsistencies throughout the campaign.
UW journalism professor Mike Wagner watched the speech from a campus library and noted Obama’s performance was significantly more aggressive than his debate showing on Wednesday.
“He wants voters to focus on inconsistencies in Romney’s record and his performance in the debate compared to what he’s said up until Wednesday,” Wagner said. “In the wake of the debate, Obama’s strategy is to paint Romney as someone who can’t be trusted.”
Canon said pro-Obama supporters who were disappointed with his debate performance may have been consoled by Thursday’s speech in Madison.
Wagner added supporters present at the event appeared pleased with the “feistier” tempo of Obama’s speech, noting the president directly attacked Romney and contrasted the two contenders’ views in a way that he avoided at the debate.
“I heard more than one person in the crowd say, ‘Where was this yesterday?,’ so I think supporters were more than satisfied with today’s performance,” Wagner said.
Obama appeared more comfortable in front of the Madison crowd, Wagner said, noting his audience “ate it up.”
Journalism and political science professor Dhavan Shah wrote off Obama’s higher degree of comfort as evidence the president excels in oration but not necessarily at impromptu speaking.
“People who are great orators can deliver a prepared set of remarks very well, and Obama’s a master at that,” Shah said. “On the other hand, extemporaneous speaking, where you need to have all these details at your command and pick remarks that are concise and specific, that’s a different set of skills.”
Shah also compared Obama’s oratory skills to those of former President Bill Clinton’s, noting the former Democratic president excels at public speaking in the context of both debates and premeditated speeches.
“Obama, I think, has elements of Clinton’s ability to connect with the public, but he tends to be long-winded and focus on the details,” Shah said.
The president also dedicated a significant part of his speech to getting out the vote, repeatedly telling supporters, “Don’t boo – vote.” Several introductory speakers, including Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, and Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, asserted the importance of voting and provided information for individuals interested in casting their ballots early.
UW political science professor Dennis Dresang said the primary goal of Obama’s entire speech was to encourage voting.
“Most people have already made up their mind about who they’re going to vote for,” Dresang said. “The major impact of his visit to campus is to energize his supporters.”
Wagner added Obama’s campaign has spent time and money educating voters across the nation on how and where to vote.
“His campaign is very good at turning out their supporters,” Wagner said. “I would suspect the level of support the president gets in this election will be similar to 2008, a year when there was more excitement among young people in his candidacy, and that’s not the case this year.”