Sports coverage of debate: Obama ‘choked’ — while Romney ‘played to win’

Even some of President Barack Obama’s supporters in the media and Democratic Party concede he lost Wednesday night’s debate to Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

They didn’t quite compare it to Eli Manning’s underdog New York Giants twice upsetting Tom Brady’s favored New England Patriots in the Super Bowl. But the political pundits sounded like analysts and sportswriters on ESPN as they dissected the big game:

— OBAMA CHOKED: It’s the big one, the heaviest accusation you can level in sports, the charge that a player or team lost their heart or wasn’t able to rise to the big moment. Andrew Sullivan went there last night while live-blogging the debate for The Daily Beast:

“How is Obama’s closing statement so f—— sad, confused and lame? He choked. He lost. He may even have lost the election tonight.”

Sullivan “loves” Obama but didn’t care for his conservative game plan:

“This was a disaster for the president for the key people he needs to reach, and his effete, wonkish lectures may have jolted a lot of independents into giving Romney a second look. Obama looked tired, even bored; he kept looking down; he had no crisp statements of passion or argument; he wasn’t there. He was entirely defensive, which may have been the strategy. But it was the wrong strategy. At the wrong moment.”

— ROMNEY WANTED IT MORE: This sports cliche never gets old. Leave it to sports fan James Carville, a former advisor to President Bill Clnton, to wheel it out on CNN after the debate was over. Via Mediate:

“I had one overwhelming impression. I did everything I could not to reach it, but I had to reach it. It looked like Romney wanted to be there and President Obama didn’t want to be there…It seemed like Romney was happy to be there. Obama gave me the impression that the whole thing was kind a lot of trouble.”

— OBAMA PLAYED PREVENT DEFENSE: MSMBC’S Chris Matthews thought the President played prevent defense — while the challenger played to win. Via Dylan Byers of Politico:

Matthews described Obama’s debate performance as “like, ‘I’ll wait an hour and a half, I think I can get through this thing. I don’t even look at this guy.’ Whereas Romney — I loved the split screen, staring at Obama, addressing him, like the prey. He did it just right. I’m coming at an incumbent. I’ve got to beat him. You gotta beat the champ, and I’m gonna beat him tonight. And I don’t care what this guy moderator, whatever he thinks he is, because I’m going to ignore him. What was Romney doing? He was winning.” Matthews said he didn’t know what Obama “was doing out there — he had his head down. He was enduring the debate rather than fighting it.” Romney, though, went out there with a “plan” to dominate the evening, and he succeeded, Matthews said.

— BLAME THE REF: When in doubt, blame the ref. One of the president’s advisors criticized Jim Lehrer for letting Romney drive the debate despite the President speaking longer than the Republican candidate. Also via Politico:

Obama spokesperson Stephanie Cutler took a swipe at moderator Jim Lehrer’s largely passive debate performance tonight, saying the PBS anchor had allowed Mitt Romney to act as the moderator. “I sometimes wondered if we even needed a moderator because we had Mitt Romney,” Cutter told CNN shortly after the debate, though she told POLITICO that Lehrer did his job as moderator and that her comments were strictly about Romney….

Romney spokesman Eric Ferhnstrom shot back: “You know you’ve lost the debate when you start blaming the moderator for a poor performance,”

BLAME THE MILE-HIGH ALTITUDE: The debate in Denver wasn’t at Mile High Stadium. But former U.S. Vice President Al Gore reached for the argument that countless opponents of the Denver Broncos have used over the years. Via The Weekly Standard:

“I’m going to say something controversial here. Obama arrived in Denver at 2 p.m. today — just a few hours before the debate started,” Gore said on his network, Current. “Romney did his debate prep in Denver. When you go to 5,000 feet, and you only have a few hours to adjust, I don’t know…”

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