While county Republican leaders cheered Wednesday night's presidential debate performance by Mitt Romney as a game-changer and a knockout punch, local Democrats conceded a weak outing for President Obama but held out hope for a turnaround.
Even Gov. Deval Patrick, a co-chairman of Obama's campaign, expressed disappointment, telling Bos ton's WCVB-TV that the president had "missed opportunities" during the debate. Patrick termed Obama's performance "good," but Romney's was "great."
"In the eyes of many people, it was far and away one of Obama's weaker performances," said former North Adams Mayor John Barrett III, who has been campaigning for the president with other current or former city mayors.
"The president tried to talk issues, but because of the format, Romney was allowed to run roughshod with a lot of inaccuracies," Barrett said. "This is a 15-round fight, with 10 more to go, so you'll see a different approach from both of them. I'm not discouraged at all."
For Jim Bronson, chairman of the Berkshire County Republican Association, Rom ney's appearance was "Reag anesque, presidential, he had a clear command of the issues, it was a terrific night."
According to Bronson, "Obama appeared bewildered and disgruntled, while Rom ney dazzled the president with the facts. It was a knockout performance and a game-changer."
Peter Giftos, former executive director of the Re publican association, also was upbeat. "Trying to be objective, I thought Romney did exceptionally well, and I didn't expect him to do so," he said. "I was pleasantly surprised."
Asked whether the candidate's chances to win the presidency have improved, Giftos predicted that "if the next two debates are anything similar, it might just turn the corner for him."
Prominent Berkshire attorney and Democratic activist Sherwood Guernsey, a North Berkshire state representative from 1982-90, argued that "Mitt's performance was shameful, awful, all about shuck and jive. He was deceptive and misled the American people. I hope they're going to see through it. The question is, will they?"
Conceding that "Obama could have been stronger," Guernsey maintained "that's not the issue. It's not a test of theater, it's a matter of telling the truth. I don't think the president had his best night, but he was dealing with a guy who was misleading everybody."
But, in his view, "it was not a game-changer, they both held their own. Romney used the oldest ruse in politics, saying he's got a plan, but there is no plan. That's shameful."
Lee Harrison, one of four county members of the Democratic state committee, said, "I'm sure Mitt Romney thinks he hit a home run, but he was using a loaded bat. It was a great performance, but an election is not about theater. Nearly everything he said was untrue."
While Obama was not on his game, Harrison said "eventually the truth will win out. I would have loved to have seen a more contentious Obama, but that doesn't alter the facts."
As for the impact on voters, Harrison said he had "great confidence" in an Obama victory.
"I don't think the debate will move the needle very much, though it may have a little bit of resonance for a day or two," Harrison said.
But Bronson, terming Rom ney's showing a "grand slam," predicted that if all voting were completed today, the challenger would win by 5 or 6 percentage points.
"But," he admitted, "what looks great today might not look so great tomorrow."
"The biggest mistake anyone can make is underestimating Romney," Barrett pointed out. "I believe we saw him at the top of his game, but in the next two debates, he'll fall abso lutely flat."
The former mayor remains confident of Obama's re-election, contending that "voters have a short memory and the next debates will bring everyone back to reality."
As Barrett sees it, "The president was too much of a gentleman putting forth his ideas. I don't believe he wanted to fire all his guns. But when your game isn't that strong, and the other guy's is, that's not the best formula for success."