The pugilists
The pugilistsReuters

No I was not sufficiently masochistic to  get up at 3 in the morning to watch the debate live from Israel (a mode of behavior perhaps merited by the Super Bowl), but reading the transcript and watching the debate replay left little doubt about the decisive victory scored by Mitt Romney.

The debate was reminiscent of 1996 and I am not talking about Bill Clinton versus Robert Dole in the American presidential election, but Binyamin Netanyahu versus Shimon Peres in one of the two occasions where the Prime Minister of Israel was directly elected (rather than by coalition agreement)..

Netanyahu entered the debate trailing  Peres in the polls and the pundits had already crowned Peres. Peres' campaign manager, the Iago of Israeli politics, Haim Ramon, had devised a negative campaign based on the slogan Bibi Lo Matim – Bibi is totally unsuitable and did not deserve to be in the same ring with Peres.

By totally dominating the debate, Netanyahu convinced enough voters that he was eminently suitable. Netanyahu supporters were buoyed and energized by their candidate's success and the rest is history.

Up to this debate, the Obama campaign had had success in persuading voters that Romney was totally unsuitable. Although towards the debate, the Obama campaign began to diminish expectations and lower the bar for success, Barack Obama entered the debate as the overwhelming favorite in the eyes of both the public and the pundits.

In the debate, Mitt Romney not only proved himself an equal but in his mastery of economic detail, he actually appeared to be toying with Obama and as he himself said - at one point, he was having fun without overdoing it.

Therefore, the undecided voter was left with the conclusion that Romney is eminently suitable - or Obama is woefully unsuitable.

On occasion, Romney appeared to be a batter waiting for a particular pitch. For example, when Obama claimed that the oil industry had benefited from favoritism to the tune of $2.8 billion, Romney responded that the Obama administration had squandered $90 billion backing clean energy losers such as Solyndra (some of whom had funded Obama's campaign), with the moral of the story being that government should stay out of areas where private enterprise does better.

It would perhaps be excessive to accept the judgment of Andrew Sullivan, an Israel-baiting backer of Barack Obama, that his candidate had perhaps lost the election as a result of his lackluster performance.

It would not be an exaggeration to call the debate a turning point in the campaign that will now revert to the tight race it was prior to the Democratic convention.

Last night's debate adds to the importance of next week's vice presidential debate. Here, the Republicans should be wary of being in the reverse position. The Republican candidate Paul Ryan is considered a policy wonk and whiz kid, while Joe Biden has been the author of gaffes such as the middle class has been buried the past four years (when you know who was the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave for that period...) The expectation is that we have a mismatch in this debate and therefore, a strong showing by Biden can help restore the fortunes of the Democrats.

The writer is a political scientist and Arutz Sheva's Global Agenda and political analyst. He is featured regularly in the Hebrew and English Israeli press, lives in Tekoa.