In peddling a new campaign trail book it is important to get some juicy nuggets out there. Halperin and Heilemann are doing just that, offering up such tasty morsels as Obama "reportedly" questioning himself after his first debate against Romney with his chief adviser, David Plouffe, in a panic. The other morsel is that there was serious consideration of placing Hillary on the ticket over Biden. Both are pure speculation based on second and third hand sources, but that doesn't seem to bother these intrepid journalists.
I don't think Obama ever doubted himself. If anything, he didn't take Romney seriously in the first debate and suffered what turned out to be a relatively minor setback. It's also worth noting that the media was desperate to make this into a horse race when it looked like Obama was leaving Romney far behind in the polls, so it played up Romney's faux victory.
While Obama's overall numbers fell, he continued to lead in key states, so I doubt his campaign staff panicked, but rather sought ways to strengthen the message, while Obama prepped himself better for the subsequent debates. Not that they mattered much, as debates rarely do. Bush arguably lost all three debates to John Kerry but still won his re-election by 2-1/2 percentage points, and hotly contested Ohio by 5 percentage points.
The second talking point defies all credulity as Biden was one of the best things Obama had going for him. Biden is good-humored, a tireless campaigner, and generally well liked. It would have been pure folly to drop him from the ticket, if for no other reason than it would have indicated he really was worried about his re-election. However, I have to think in surveying his potential opponents, Obama must have felt pretty good about himself, and I don't think dropping Joe ever entered his mind.
We also learned about Romney's misgivings about "Pufferfish," aka Chris Christie. Halperin and Hellemann suggest that Christie smelled a little too fishy for Romney's taste, who preferred the much leaner Paul Ryan. Fact of the matter, Christie wasn't very well liked by the base of the party, which Romney found himself having to cater to time and again, but the base of the party loved Paul "P90X" Ryan.
By contrast, Dan Balz's Collision 2012 seems to take a less sensational approach, and look more at the underlying factors, namely Obama's "computer-driven voter-mobilization machine," which he feels has set a new technical model in political campaigning that will become the standard in 2016. Balz finds it odd that a former venture capitalist like Romney with obviously a good head for numbers could allow himself to be outsmarted by Obama. But, it seemed to be the case at every turn.
Balz describes the first debate not so much as a turning point for Romney, but rather the ultimate delusion in the former Massachusetts governor believing he had reached the people. What we got after Denver was the new "emotional" Romney as opposed to the technocrat we had previously been subjected to. Balz also covers the Christie angle, noting that Romney actually wanted "Pufferfish" to resign as governor to be his running mate. Paul Ryan wasn't forced to resign. Fortunately for him, he ran a concurrent House campaign so that he would still be in office come November.
For my money it seems Collision is the better of the two books, relying less on apocryphal quotes and speculation, and more on attributed quotes and statistics. "Specific without being tedious," as Howell Rains noted in his review.