CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer opened the debate by asking candidates to introduce themselves. “Here’s an example of what I’m looking for: ‘I’m Wolf Blitzer and yes, that’s my real name.'”
Romney couldn’t help himself in going for a quick laugh. “I’m Mitt Romney and yes, Wolf, that’s also my first name,” he said to dead silence from the audience.
That wasn’t the worst of it: Romney’s real first name is Willard — Mitt is his middle name.
The blogosphere pounced immediately: Not so! His actual name is Willard Mitt Romney. Cue the flip-flopping jokes.
The Daily News takes note of a quick and typical tweet from the AFL-CIO: “Mitt Romney lies about unions, Obama, and…his first name.”
The Democratic Party blasted a quick tweet: “FACT: Mitt Romney’s real first name is Willard.”
Ashley Parker of the New York Times is more forgiving than most: The man goes by “Mitt” after all. “So, our final verdict: technically false, but basically true.” He wasn’t the only candidate with a first-name controversy.
At one point, Herman Cain mistakenly referred to Blitzer as “Blitz” before catching himself a few moments later.
Blitzer said, “Thank you, Cain.”
Romney had one of his worst performances of the 11 debates so far, but he still managed to do fairly well. Romney is a front-runner for a reason: he has been running for president for five years and that practice has paid off for the former Massachusetts governor.
Romney skillfully turned questions about foreign policy into answers about domestic issues where he was able to contrast his own positions with those of President Obama, cementing the idea that this race is going to come down to Romney and one other candidate.
In fact, White House candidates who once looked to presidential debates for a chance to shine now prefer to play it safe as they try to avoid the kind of televised stumble that could fatally undermine their chances.
There have been a lot of gaffes during yhis campaign.
Ask Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whose struggle in one debate to name the third of three federal agencies he would eliminate became the “oops” moment of the 2012 campaign.
Or former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, whose campaign collapsed after he ducked the chance to confront rival Mitt Romney in a debate over his push for a health care mandate in Massachusetts.
Or Herman Cain, whose “Princess Nancy” comment about former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came just as he was battling decade-old allegations of sexual harassment.
Campaigns are always ripe with potential YouTube calamities – Cain’s confusion over a question about Libya at a newspaper editorial board interview became an instant classic when it went online earlier this month, as did a speech Perry gave in New Hampshire that led to speculation he might have been drunk.
The Internet has intensified the impact of such gaffes, making normally risk-averse politicians even more careful – and debates even more scripted. It all raises the question: Do voters ever really get to know the people they end up electing to lead the country? And, in this era of reality TV, are viewers getting less than reality when they tune into debates because of a candidate’s fear of making a campaign-ending misstep? [via NY Daily News, Huff Post and Newser]