• With: Dan Henninger, Bill McGurn, Jason Riley, Kim Strassel, Bret Stephens, Matt Kaminski

    KAMINSKI: Well, there seemed to be something -- Patrick Kennedy, the other state official that testified, said that he had gotten the same briefing and that he said the same thing they were saying. But the night before this hearing, State went out there and put out a very different story than the administration had pedaled in the first week --

    GIGOT: Right.

    KAMINSKI: -- after the attacks.

    STEPHENS: But, Paul, the Benghazi story is a piece of the administration's larger strategy, which is, so long as we have an election on, the rest of the world may as well not exist. Iran doesn't exist. Syria doesn't exist. The serial rebuffs from Russia don't exist. And a terrorist attack in Benghazi sure as heck doesn't exist until it becomes a political problem for us.

    GIGOT: So where is Secretary of State Clinton in this? She's seems to be out of the picture.

    KAMINSKI: Looking for the next job --

    (LAUGHTER)

    -- or keeping a low profile. It was very telling that they did put out Susan Rice, who is one of the leading candidates for that job if Obama wins a second term.

    GIGOT: U.S. ambassador to the U.N.

    KAMINSKI: To the U.N., who did -- went out on the first Sunday talk shows after the attack to try to explain what happened, that it was the fault of the video and it was a spontaneous demonstrations.

    GIGOT: So we will learn a lot more about what really happened in Benghazi. This issue isn't going away.

    What about the debate in general on foreign policy, Dan? Who got the better of that in your view, Ryan or Biden?

    HENNINGER: I think in some ways perhaps Joe Biden did, merely because he would not allow Paul Ryan to explain himself fully. But the interesting thing was that when they got on to something like Afghanistan, if you listen closely, basically, what Joe Biden was saying was that our intention was to get out, both of Iraq and of Afghanistan. And he was not going to let anything stand in the way of that argument.

    GIGOT: But doesn't that resonate with the American mood right now, which is let's not undertake any more of these adventures?

    STEPHENS: I thought that was such a missed opportunity for Paul Ryan on Afghanistan, on Syria, in part, because the Romney campaign hasn't really articulated a truly distinctive position. It hasn't been willing to take a risk. Paul Ryan would have been in a much stronger position if he said, I believe we should impose a no-fly zone on Syria just as we did in Bosnia without the risk of a single combat.

    Another thing he should have pressed in Afghanistan is, yes, we want to get out, but we also want to win. We don't want to squander the sacrifice of 2000 American soldiers who have been there for twelve years so that the Taliban can pick up just where they were in 2001.

    GIGOT: That's a very good point. But the other one, on Syria, that's not where the Romney campaign policy is. So it was tough for Ryan to be able to go there, as much as I agree with you.

    Coming up in our second half hour, a closer look at Mitt Romney's post-debate bounce. He's taken the lead in some national polls and is closing the gap in some important swing states. How big is the surge? And can Romney keep it going?

    Plus, there's no doubt the Obama campaign is feeling the heat. But could their new attack strategy backfire?

    (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

    GIGOT: A number of new polls leave little doubt that Mitt Romney is enjoying a post-debate bounce. The Real Clear Politics average of national polls this week put him in the lead for the first time, With the Republican candidate also gaining ground among key voting groups and in some important swing states. So is the surge real? And what can Mitt Romney do to sustain it?

    For answers, we turn once again to Republican pollster Whit Ayres. Well, Whit, I got to first pay you a compliment. A couple of weeks back, before the debate, when Republicans were thinking it was over, or at least some of them were, you were saying, No, this race is a lot closer. So where does it stand now?

    WHIT AYRES, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: Well, thank you, Paul. That was a pretty easy call.

    (LAUGHTER)

    AYRES: Today, if you look at the effect of the debate, it's pretty significant. I'm talking about the first presidential debate.

    GIGOT: Right.

    AYRES: In the eight polls that were released in the week immediately before the debate, Obama had a lead of 3.6 percentage points, on average. In the seven polls that have been released so far in the week after the debate, Romney has an average lead of 1.3 percentage points. That's a net turnaround of about 5 percentage points, which is very significant in a race this close.

    There are some commentators who are saying the race is back where it was before the conventions. I don't think that's right, if you look at the data. Romney is in a stronger position now than he was in in August.

    GIGOT: So is Romney -- is it fair to say Romney's actually leading, or is this essentially a tie?

    AYRES: It's essentially a tie right now. The data is so close. But Romney was behind by a field goal, now he's kicked a field goal and we've got a tie race going into the final weeks.

    GIGOT: OK, so what voter groups have moved in the last three weeks? Are you talking about independents? Are you talking about specific demographic groups? Who's moved?

    AYRES: Well, one group that hasn't moved are the strong partisans. Democrats and Republicans who turn out are going to vote for their own nominee.

    GIGOT: Right. Right.

    AYRES: The key statistic to watch with the partisans is enthusiasm. And the presidential debate clearly helped Republican enthusiasm and hurt the Democratic enthusiasm.

    On the other hand, the group to watch as far as the ballot test goes are the independents...

    GIGOT: Right.

    AYRES: ... because they are much less locked into their particular preference at the moment. Your own polls showed that in Virginia, according to The Wall Street Journal poll...

    GIGOT: Right.

    AYRES: ... independents moved a net 7 points toward Romney after the debate. And in Ohio, independents moved a net 12 points toward Romney after the debate. Those are big swings among independents, and it's one of the reasons Romney is so much closer.

    GIGOT: If Romney wins independents by that kind of margin, does he win the election?