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Posted by on Oct 16, 2012 in 2012 Elections, Featured, Media, Politics | 0 comments

Second Obama Romney Presidential Debate: Obama’s Comeback? (News and Blog Roundup) UPDATED

NOTE: Due to a techical glitch the system eliminated the headline on this post. We regret the errror.

How can you tell that President Barack Obama had a good night — to some, a very good night — that may not have obliterated the political damage he did to himself in his first Presidential debate with Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney but might lead him on the path to repairing some damage? It was by the quick reaction of Camp Obama to get out there and “spin” the debate, the happiness that could be seen on MSNBC, and read in the posts of Democratic-sympathetic writers — and a media narrative that presents the seeds of “Obama’s Comeback,” the next logical chapter in the uncoordinated, unplanned but perceptive media narrative that often happens with political campaigns when a major candidate tumbles badly.

GO HERE to read TMV’s live blogging,
by step-back-and-analyze Pat Edaburn. And GO HERE to read the complete transcript for yourself.

A CBS News poll of a panel of uncommitted voters found Obama judged to be the winner:

A new CBS news poll conducted using an online panel of “about 500” uncommitted voters finds a slight plurality of 37 percent say President Barack Obama won the debate, while 30 percent said Mitt Romney did and 33 percent said it was a tie.

Romney came into the debate with a big advantage on the economy — a gap that Obama was unable to close, but did dent. Before the debate, 71 percent of respondents said Romney had the edge on handling the economy and 27 percent said Obama did. After the debate, that narrowed somewhat to a 65 percent to 34 percent advantage for Romney.

Obama held the advantage on better handling the middle class, 56 percent to 43 percent. Fifty-five percent of poll respondents said Obama gave direct answers to questions, while 49 percent said the same about Romney.

A CNN Poll: Obama 46, Romney 39.

One star of the debate for those who’ve worked in and work in the news media: the moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, a journalism pro from the “old school.” She will never be compared as a moderator with the hapless Jim Lehrer.

NOTE ON UPDATES: The roundup below has been updated. We also need to add this update here: Time’s Mark Halperin has a long post grading the two performances:

Here’s a taste of three parts of the analyses he has of Obama and Romney with the grades. Go to the link to read his complete report card on each candidate.

Obama:
Style: Tone and energy vastly improved over the first debate. Aggressive on Romney’s wealth and polices from the starting gun to breaking the tape. Hectored Romney frequently and effectively when the Republican had the floor. Made sure to imbue his own responses with passion and energy, even as he recited rote lines. Did well in terms of being presidential, emotional, and solid, without slipping into an off-putting hipper-than-thou mode. Was careful to avoid unappealing cutaway camera shots, but was generally intense and stern rather than sunny. The occasional exhibition of his familiar, mellow charisma served him well.

Substance: Provided few details for a second term agenda. Appeared strong when teasing out elements of Romney’s record for an audience that still doesn’t know much about the former Governor, and attempted to defend his first term record, but offered no specifics on how to achieve additional progress if granted four more years. Did everything he could to rally young, Hispanic, and female voters to his side.

…….The main thing: Focused far more on running down Romney’s economic policies, life choices, and resume than painting a picture of a second term. If voters have retained their deep affection for the President, Obama’s confident energy and relentless attack on his opponent might be enough to convince them to give him another term; if voters are truly fed up, the lack of specifics may win Romney some weary new supporters. But Hofstra puts a full stop to the reverberations of Obama’s Denver disaster that were still echoing, giving the incumbent an undeniable win.

Romney:
Style: Showed up with a cool veneer that was quickly stripped away by an assertive, combative president. Efforts to retrieve his carefully rehearsed town meeting basics and debate reply lines were inconsistent. Unattractively lapsed into his tiresome, old debate habit of petulant time keeping and openly stressing over bent rules. Successfully connected to individual audience members and sounded authentic when referring to real people he’s encountered on the campaign trail.

Substance: Made the case for his tax cut plan about as well as he can. Drove the energy issue with force and conviction, a vital part of his contrast agenda with the President. Launched a smart litany in reply to a question about how he would differ from George W. Bush.

….The main thing: Flunked his main test of reacting to a more aggressive Obama. Lost control of the event, the thread of his message, and the pleasing, accessible manner he displayed in Denver. Arguably got the tougher end of the questions, but rarely soared even on topics more favorable to him, except for the economy. His errors on tone and Libya make him the debate loser, but his economic arguments and physical challenge to the incumbent might play better in the country than in the media filing center.

–Andrew Sullivan live blogged the event. His conclusion:

10.40 pm. To my mind, Obama dominated Romney tonight in every single way: in substance, manner, style, and personal appeal. He came back like a lethal, but restrained predator. He was able to defend his own record, think swiftly on his feet, and his Benghazi answer was superb. He behaved luke a president. He owned the presidency. And Romney? Well, he has no answers on the math question and was exposed. He was vulnerable on every social issue, especially immigration. And he had no real answer to the question of how he’d be different than George W Bush.

I’m excitable – but sometimes politics is about emotion as well as reason. And my view is that Obama halted Romney’s momentum in its tracks and his performance will bring women voters in particular flooding back. He’s just more persuasive. On watching with the sound off – apart from weird gaps in the CSPAN coverage – Obama did not grin like Biden; he smiled confidently, leaning forward. Within twenty minutes, Romney looked flush and a little schvitzy.

Game, set and match to Obama. He got it; he fought back; he gave us all more than ample reason to carry on the fight.

CNN:

– President Barack Obama fought back and Republican challenger Mitt Romney mostly stood his ground.

A forceful Obama defended his record and challenged Romney on shifting positions in the 90-minute debate, arguing his Republican rival’s policies would favor the wealthy if elected.

Romney repeatedly attacked Obama’s record, saying millions of unemployed people and sluggish economic recovery showed the president’s policies had failed.
Obama was more animated and engaging than his understated and widely panned performance in their first debate nearly two weeks ago.

He and Romney, who also aggressively made his points, walked the floor at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, holding microphones, raising their voices and repeatedly challenging each other’s points.

“Governor Romney says he’s got a five-point plan. Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan; he has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules,” Obama said about his opponent’s approach for boosting the economy.

Romney shot back that Obama was “great as a speaker, but his policies don’t work.”
“That’s what this election is all about,” Romney said, saying he would prioritize middle class growth. “It’s about how we can get the middle class of this country a bright and prosperous future.”

However, Romney failed to provide further specifics of his tax policy, even when one audience member asked about unspecified deductions and loopholes the candidate says he will eliminate.

–One of the country’s best and most accurate analysts, political scientist Larry Sabato. Some Tweets:

OK, Obama staged comeback. But can he make up lost ground, or just not lose more? Avalanche of polls will tell us.

And Obama shifts into Clinton mold: Everybody should play by the same rules. Oh, and 47%–when Romney can’t respond.

Are you better off…

Romney prepared for Bush question. No way to win that one, but he gave concrete examples of differences.

I am starting to think that the women’s vote might be important on Nov. 6.

Romney mentions WOMEN in poverty.

POTUS opponents always dislike each other, but these two hate each other.

I finally get it. Obama has a fraternal twin. Two different Obama’s, one for each debate.

Fact checkers in danger of serious vascular incidents tonight.

Obama staffers got through to POTUS on defining future, plus taking fight to Romney.

Jonah Goldberg on NRO:

I think Obama won on points. I think Romney whiffed on the Libya question. For me, both of them came across as less likable by the end because of the bickering and badgering.

That said, I don’t know that it focus-groups that way (if I can turn that into a verb). There was a lot that Mitt Romney said tonight that resonates with voters on exactly the issues that they are most likely to vote on. Many of Obama’s answers seem to resonate with people in the MSNBC green room. Moreover, I don’t know that the post-debate fact-checks and discussion will play to Obama’s advantage. The scrum over Obama’s Libya response will keep the topic alive for a week. Romney’s answer on oil and gas was right and Obama’s claim Romney was lying was in fact a lie. Etc.

Regardless, even if the polls show Obama won by a small margin– which I expect they will — and that verdict holds, tonight’s debate struck me as a more traditional presidential debate, with ammo for both sides to claim their guy won. And I don’t know that that’s good enough for Obama. The first debate changed peoples’ impression of Romney. There was little in tonight’s debate that seems likely to erase that.

–The Huffington Post’s screaming headline is “BARACK IS BACK”.

The New York Times:

Following a shaky debate performance two weeks ago that helped Mr. Romney to gain a new edge in this pivotal last month of the race, Mr. Obama had promised to be more aggressive on Tuesday, and from his very first question he took a shot at Mr. Romney, over his opposition to the Detroit automobile bailout.

Mr. Romney, who was seeking to use his momentum to woo those who had supported Mr. Obama four years ago, readily engaged, at one point stepping into Mr. Obama’s space while pushing him to answer his charge that oil production had dropped during his tenure.

Reflecting the charged, clenched and biting nature of the debate from its start, Mr. Romney told the president tartly, “This has not been Mr. Oil or Mr. Gas or Mr. Coal.”

The two men repeatedly broke the rules against direct engagement that their campaigns had agreed to, turning to each other to make accusations of lying about their own policies and their records.

In a clash on energy policy, Mr. Obama looked at Mr. Romney and accused him of lying about the amount of oil that has been produced on public land, saying: “It’s just not true.”

“It’s absolutely true,” Mr. Romney said, looking directly at the president.

During a clash over the killing of Americans in Libya, the two became heated, with Mr. Romney saying that the president had misled Americans about the attacks and Mr. Obama taking offense by directly addressing his Republican rival.

“The suggestion that anybody on my team, the Secretary of State, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team, would play politics or mislead, when we’ve lost four of our own, is offensive, governor,” Mr. Obama said.

Mr. Obama kept pressing Mr. Romney by raising issues that did not come up in the first debate between the two men. He raised the issue of the affordability of contraception, he raised health care, and he raised the issue of immigration, linking Mr. Romney to the controversial immigration law in Arizona

Washington Post:

President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney clashed Tuesday evening over economic opportunity, immigration reform, and foreign policy in their second debate, an event that offered perils and possibilities for both candidates now locked in an essentially even race with three weeks to go before Election Day.

Soon after the men took the stage, sharp exchanges set the tone for a debate that exceeded its 90-minute allotment, and pointed to a performance by Obama that was far more engaged and prepared than the one he turned in during their first encounter nearly two weeks ago.

Allahpundit:

Having said that, I think there’s virtually nothing O could do onstage tonight short of barfing on someone that’ll get the left to admit afterward that he did poorly. They desperately need him to have a good performance to remain viable, and thus the narrative will make it so tomorrow even if Obama doesn’t make it so tonight. His problem is that, even with that media cushion, it’s unlikely that Romney will falter, which is really what O needs to reverse the momentum here. The only thing I can think of that might potentially get hairy for Romney is if he’s put on the spot by a questioner who’s either extremely confrontational or somehow deeply sympathetic — a “YouTube moment,” in other words. Romney can handle himself against O, but the crux of the Dems’ message against him has always been that he’s some sort of enemy of the working man. If they get a moment like that tonight, of some audience member being accusatory with Romney, that could get traction. All depends upon how he handles it, of course.

Some Tweets by columnist Dick Polman:

Yeah, how dare she fact-check Mitt’s lying? “@thecaucus: Conservative commentators criticize Crowley’s moderation of 2nd debate.”

What a pleasing evening: Obama gets his mojo back, and the Yankees get teed up for last rites.

Fox News says the debate was a draw. Translation: the Fox News candidate was stomped.

Finally. Finally. How long was it going to take before Obama brought up Mitt’s dissing of 47 percent of the American public? 190 minutes.

Karl Rove tweets: “President happy to go on to other topics. Seems rattled by Romney hit on Libya.” Such is life in the GOP thought bubble.

Candy volunteers info that Mitt as guv signed assault weapons ban: “Why is it that you changed your mind?” Cue right-wing attacks on Candy.

Mitt repeats Ryan’s lie that it took Obama 2 wks to call Benghazi a terrorist act. Obama on day 1 called it “an act of terror.” Bye bye lie.

USA Today:

President Obama sought to regain his re-election momentum Tuesday in a second debate with Republican Mitt Romney, tangling with his rival over jobs, the auto industry bailout, energy, taxes and other issues.

The two put on a more heated and energetic show than in their first debate, often questioning or interrupting each other and disputing the other’s claims. Both men walked the stage, each speaking directly to their questioners and gesturing to each other.

Obama, criticized after the first debate for looking down at his notes and appearing disengaged, watched Romney intently when he spoke.

After seeing an aggressive Romney score gains in polls following their initial encounter Oct. 3, Obama entered the debate intending to show more passion and make his case to the nation for a second four-year term.

He used the first question from the audience of uncommitted voters, which was about jobs, to blast Romney’s opposition to the bailout of two of the three big U.S. automakers. Obama said that if Romney’s way had prevailed, bankruptcy would have cost a million Americans their jobs.

Obama ridiculed Romney’s claim to have a five-point plan to create jobs.

“He doesn’t have a five-point plan, he has a one-point plan, and that’s to make sure people at the top play by different rules. … That’s been his philosophy,” Obama said. “The last thing we need to do is go back to the same policies” that put the nation into an economic downturn four years ago, Obama said.

The Australian:

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama went on the attack against Republican challenger Mitt Romney in a critical debate, looking to rebound from an earlier matchup when he was seen as listless and distracted.

The stakes of the town hall-style debate could not have been higher. With just three weeks to go before Election Day, the race is locked in a dead heat and many Americans are already casting ballots in states with early voting.

Mr Obama strode onto the stage seeking a stronger showing than in the initial debate on October 3, when he had sent shudders through his supporters and helped fuel a rise in opinion polls by Mr Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.

The open-stage format, with no physical objects between them, placed incumbent and challenger face to face and, when they chose, directly in each other’s faces. Their physical encounters crackled with energy and tension, and the crowd watched raptly as the two sparred while struggling to appear calm and affable before a national television audience.

Slate:

“More troubling,” Romney said, was that the day after the attack, “the president flew to Las Vegas for a political fundraiser,” and then to Colorado for another fundraiser, when he should have been dealing with the crisis.

You could practically hear trumpets blaring “Hail to the Chief” at the vast opening that this left the president. Obama, with a stern face and a barely suppressed tone of outrage, stated that the day after the attack, he stood in the Rose Garden and denounced the assault as “an act of terror.” A few days later, he added, he greeted the caskets of the dead, grieved with their families. To say that anybody on his team “would play politics” on an issue like this, Obama concluded, “is offensive—that’s not what we do.”

Romney then dug himself deeper, claiming that Obama took 14 days before he called the attack an act of terror. Obama replied, “Look at the transcript.” Then, in a peak of drama, Candy Crowley, the CNN reporter who moderated the debate, interjected, “He did, in fact, sir,” prompting applause from the otherwise-stone-faced audience. In other words, Crowley said, Obama did call it an act of terror.

Let’s go to that press conference of Sept. 12. Obama did say, clearly speaking about the attack the day before, “No acts of terror will shake the resolve of this great nation.”

Romney was right that it took nearly two weeks before the administration released a definitive statement that the attack was premeditated and that it did not spring from a spontaneous demonstration. But he also allowed that sometimes it takes a while for the true nature of such an event to emerge.

In short, Romney failed to make the attack stick. And he gave Obama an opening—a rare and unnecessary one in a town hall forum—to speak up as the commander-in-chief.

The Politico:

An animated and aggressive Barack Obama clawed back Tuesday from his somnambulant first debate — and an often defensive Mitt Romney battled moderator Candy Crowley of CNN nearly as often as he went after the president.

Obama entered the critical second presidential debate at Long Island’s Hofstra University needing to stem Romney’s momentum in swing states — especially among moderate women voters who have flocked to the GOP nominee following a commanding performance in Denver nearly two weeks ago.

On the surface, Obama seemed to have succeeded — at least in firing up his own base — although the polls will tell the tale in coming days.

If the president’s nail-gnawing supporters were mystified by his failure to attack Romney and put up a fight last time, Obama delivered the feisty counter punch they demanded this time. He homed in on Romney’s perceived vulnerabilities, especially his wealth and lack of a common touch, in a series of dramatic center-stage confrontations between two men who radiated hostility toward each other.

“Gov. Romney says he’s got a five-point plan?” Obama asked, mocking his opponent’s bullet-point presentation at the first debate. “Gov. Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan. He has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules.”

Romney, for his part, repeatedly hammered the president for a set of policies that “crushed” the middle class and expanded the deficit.

The debate as it appeared on the written transcript — a reasonably rational, stat-packed discourse — was entirely different than the bull-ring visuals at the Mack Center here. In one odd exchange early in the night, the two met at center stage to argue, and Romney appeared to chase Obama as the president disengaged to saunter back to his stool.

If Obama was caught flat-flooted in mile-high Denver, the lower altitude of Long Island seemed to disadvantage Romney, who appeared flustered and argumentative at some points, controlled and in command of the facts at others. He interrupted Crowley several times and challenged her on the rules of engagement — a practice that marred some of his debate performances during the primary — demanding that she allow him to finish his answers or cap off an Obama retort.

The audience “gasped audibly” when Romney told Obama “you’ll get your chance in a moment” during a heated exchange, according to a pool reporter in the hall.

-The American Conservative:

What a difference a disaster makes.

Where last week President Obama was listless, passive, crotchety, tonight in New York he had a noticeable spring in his step. A swagger, even. In what may turn out to be the most replayed snippet of all three debates, Obama invited Mitt Romney to attack him over the administration’s handling of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi. “Please proceed, governor,” he said, cockily. Romney bungled the attack — the low-information viewer was led to believe Obama and his staff were never in doubt the attack was planned and perpetrated by terrorists — and even managed to praise the president for taking responsibility for it.

Romney’s was an unforgivable whiff. Surely he is kicking himself as I write. (A lot of conservative ire on this exchange will be directed at CNN moderator Candy Crowley. In her defense, I think she attempted balance in her intervention; she noted that the president used the words “act of terror” but also defended Romney’s assertion that the administration continued to peddle the “spontaneous demonstration” canard.)

But this election is not, fundamentally, about Libya. It’s about the state of the economy. And on this question Romney was on his game. Perhaps not as crisply or as confidently as he was in Round 1. But for two minutes that seemed like five, Romney unleashed a torrent of horrible data on unemployment, underemployment, food stamps, poverty rates, and exploding deficits. There is little that can be said to deny it or affirmatively defend it. The record is there, and Obama is lumbered with it.

Make no mistake, though: the president countered Romney effectively tonight — much more so than he did in the first debate (which is to say, almost not at all). He issued a line about Romney’s tax plan — “sketchy deal” — that may come to equal 2000-era Al Gore’s “risky scheme” in the annals of rhetorical barbs.

USA Today at a Florida cafe:

The decisively Democratic crowd at JJ’s Café & Bar in the Ybor City district of this city Tuesday night came to watch an emboldened President Obama — not the hesitant debater who rarely looked at the camera and seemed unsure of himself in the first presidential debate.

Right from the start, Obama seemed different — more assertive, more energetic — as he squared off with his Republican rival Mitt Romney, in the town-hall-style debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., said Savanah Goodland, 22, a University of South Florida humanities student in attendance.

“Shot out of a cannon,” she said of Obama’s demeanor. “He does well in these town hall debates. His energy is a lot better.”

“He’s killing it,” said Joe Jay, 25. “He’s turning in a much better performance than last time.”

The Daily Beast’s Howard Kurtz:

Barack Obama came to play in the second presidential debate Tuesday night, unleashing a series of attacks against Mitt Romney that accused him of favoring the rich and “extreme” social policies.

AND:

Obama strategists were far more upbeat after the debate than they had been last time. David Axelrod said Romney was “outright dishonest” at times, that he was “fact-checked by the moderator,” and spent the night “backpedaling … Tonight you saw a guy who looked like he was trying to pull a bait and switch on the American people.”

Romney senior strategist Ed Gillespie was more subdued, declining an opportunity to declare his man the winner. “No doubt the president changed his style tonight, but that doesn’t mean he can change his record,” Gillespie said.

AND:

Obama punched back in a way he utterly failed to do last time, gradually seizing the upper hand as the debate wore on. “Governor Romney’s allies in Congress held the 98 percent hostage” because they want tax breaks for “the top 2 percent,” he said. Obama said Romney had talked about cutting taxes for everyone—not tax rates—during the GOP primaries. And in accusing his rival of refusing to disclose what tax loopholes he would close, or spending cuts beyond those for Big Bird and Planned Parenthood, he said Romney was peddling “a sketchy deal” that no one should accept.

Sounding increasingly defensive, Romney touted his record in running a business, the Olympics, and the state of Massachusetts. “When we’re talking about math that doesn’t add up, what about $4 trillion in deficits?” When Romney tried to continue one of his answers and Crowley raised her voice and forced him to stop, it temporarily took the wind out of his sails and he seemed grumpy

The Hill:

President Obama and Mitt Romney traded heavy verbal blows Tuesday night in their second face-to-face confrontation, repeatedly approaching each other like prize fighters and trying to talk over each other’s answers.

The 90-minute presidential debate at Hofstra University in New York state was intensely aggressive and more closely matched than their first debate two weeks ago, largely because the president was more animated and assertive.

Obama’s performance enthused Democrats, who have watched public opinion polls shift significantly against the president this month.

“He stopped the bleeding, but he did so much more than that,” one former White House official said. “He reaffirmed for an awful lot of people why they fell in love with him in the first place.”

Romney was also combative, evidently determined not to be dominated or to lose his recent poll momentum.

It was a vastly different performance for Obama, who was accused of being listless when the two men met in Denver during the first presidential debate.

Buzzfeed offers this video to back up Obama’s contention that he had used the word terror. From Sept. 13:

.The President may have been slightly ambiguous in September 12th remarks, but more clearly called Libya an “act of terror” on September 13th in Colorado. Romney stumbled on the charge that Obama had avoided the label.

More Buzzfeed:

President Barack Obama appeared at Hofstra University tonight to meet his Republican challenger Mitt Romney face to face in the second presidential debate, delivering what campaign officials described as a “dominant” victory — and one they hope will translate instantly into early votes in crucial states.

“We built the best grass roots ground operation in American political history for this moment,” Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said. “We have 20 days after tonight to get our voters out and persuade the undecided…Tonight gives us the energy, the focus, the clear difference between the two candidates to go out there and make this case.”

The campaign feels particularly confident about the numbers they are seeing in early voting as well, saying they have a commanding lead in both Iowa and Ohio.

“People are already voting in Iowa, folks are voting in Ohio, [the numbers] in both states demonstrate very clearly our infrastructure is to the president’s benefit,” Gaspard said. “We have many more Democrats participating than Republicans at this point, and every one of the other states that allow for early vote we are moving aggressively to turn out that vote and to build awareness in our activist base.”

Taegan Goddard:

If President Obama had done this well in the first debate, most would have already written off Mitt Romney. Obama won the debate decisively.

The president had a simple formula: Defend and explain his record while insisting that Romney wasn’t being truthful. He kept Romney on the defensive and came prepared with counter-punches to nearly every topic. It was devastatingly effective.

The memorandum of understanding setting the rules for the debate — and the town hall format itself — went out the window pretty quickly. The debate turned confrontational within the first 20 minutes which probably pleased partisans. Both sides saw fire in their candidate. But it’s more likely that undecided voters didn’t like the confrontation at all.

In particular, Romney doesn’t do testy well. He made a big mistake trying to roll over the moderator. He got away with it in the first debate but he looked mean tonight. His obsession with the rules also came off as petty.

Romney was most effective when pointing out what Obama promised and what actually happened over the last four years. He scored many points But he lost most of them by not knowing his facts on what President Obama said the morning after the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya. Obama acted like a president in the exchange while Romney was much less. It was Romney’s Gerald Ford moment.

–Pajamas Media post: Mitt Romney Wins Debate on Smooth Presidential Performance, Obama’s Ignorance

Los Angeles Times:

A newly energetic and aggressive President Obama went directly after his Republican challenger from the first moment of their second debate to the last, attacking Mitt Romney’s business record, his positions on issues and his truthfulness during a heated 90-minute encounter.

“Gov. Romney says he’s got a five-point plan. Gov. Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan; he has a one-point plan: Make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules,” Obama said during his answer to the debate’s first question.

In his final words, he reprised Romney’s videotaped comments, made during a fundraising lunch in May, about 47% of Americans not paying federal income taxes and wanting to be dependent on the government.

“When he said behind closed doors that 47% of the country considers themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility — think about who he was talking about: folks on Social Security who’ve worked all their lives, veterans who’ve sacrificed for this country” and “people who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas taxes, but don’t make enough income.

“I want to fight for them,” he said.

Within the debate’s first six minutes, Obama had twice accused Romney of saying things that were “not true.”

Romney, who had dominated the first debate two weeks ago, often appeared to be on the defensive, accusing Obama of distorting his positions. He repeatedly made efforts to return the debate to his strongest point — Obama’s economic record.

Some Tweets by Andy Borowitz:

Romney: “My dad was from Mexico, my wife is from Wales, and my microcircuitry is from Japan.” #debate

So far, fact-checkers have caught Romney telling three truths. #debate

Romney: “Obamacare is by far the worst idea I ever had.” #debate

Romney: “The biggest difference between Bush and me is he believed in dangerous ideas and I believe in nothing.” #debate

“Debates don’t matter.” — Democrats two weeks ago and Republicans tonight #debate

Every one of Romney’s sentences addressed to Candy Crowley ends with a silent “bitch.” #debate

Romney is sounding like a dude selling reverse mortgages to old people on late night cable. #debate

DEBATE FACT: This is the first black person Romney has talked to since his speech at the NAACP. #debate

Candy: “Given CNN’s ratings, I too will soon need a job.” #debate

Romney: “Jeremy, if you are illegal, you can get a job working at my house.” #debate

In a positive sign for the Democrats, Obama appears to be conscious. #debateTim Stanley

Historian Dr. Tim Stanley, writing in The Telegraph:

Obama won Tuesday night’s debate. His performance was far stronger second time around, more aggressive, more personal, and he commanded the floor. By contrast, some of the bad old Mitt from the primaries was back. The Republican shuffled around the stage and seem to tire halfway through. As he often does under pressure, Romney talked in innuendoes. Asked a question about achieving gender balance in the workplace, he replied, “Thankyou, that’s an important topic” – which longtime Mitt followers know is code for “I never thought about that before.” He then told the audience that, as Governor of Massachusetts, in his search for potential female appointees he had been shown “binders full of women.” Ahem. What he learned from this experience was that “If you’re gonna have women in the workforce, they need to be more flexible.” O my. I know what he meant: you know what he meant. But the slutty minded on Twitter were in stiches.

Obama exploited Romney’s flaws. He reminded the audience that the Republican pays just over 14 per cent in federal taxes (although he tops that up with generous charitable donations) and that he u-turned on assault weapons. And at the end of the night, Romney set himself up for a painful reminder of his remarks about the 47 per cent by pledging to represent “the 100 per cent of Americans.” Predictably, Obama replied by trotting out Romney’s infamous closed-door statement about welfare recipients. In this manner, almost every Romney attack was blunted. And, as the evening wore on, the President’s smile grew and he interjected more often. In fact it started to feel like he was getting more time and more generous questions. But that might have been a testament to his performance rather than a conspiracy by the organisers.

However, there are two factors that might even out Obama’s win. First, Romney was on form when talking about the economic issues – where the numbers speak for themselves. Mitt consistently won points when he was able to cite high unemployment, high debt or spiralling prices. When Obama told the audience that the rising price of gas was a sign of economic improvement, a few folks at home had to choke on their root beers. Romney synchronised those themes nicely in his closing message, when he was personal, idealistic and dignified. Recall that what won Romney the first debate wasn’t just his combativeness but also his centrism – the projection of a statesmanlike image that goes down well with swing voters desperately looking for an alternative to Obama. It’s noteworthy that undecideds in Frank Luntz’s televised focus group seemed to think that Romney won. His brand as a competent moderate isn’t diminished.

UPDATE:
Greg Sargent:

A very different President Obama showed up to tonight’s debate than the one who got trounced by Mitt Romney two weeks ago. Obama absolutely had to turn in a performance that would make his base happy — and he did that, by demonstrating a willingness to get in Mitt Romney’s face and in his space, and by not flinching from calling out Romney’s lies. Will Obama’s performance appeal to independents, swing, and undecided voters?

Yes, it will. The race will not be transformed in a fundamental way — it will still be a dead heat — but Obama accomplished something of a turnaround tonight. He took steps towards undoing the damaging dynamic Romney cemented during the last debate: One in which Romney had assumed the role of the energetic candidate of change, while relegating Obama to the role of listless, passive candidate of the unacceptable status quo — of the “new normal.”

He quotes this email he got from respected Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg:

I thought he made the determination from the first second to be forward-looking — laying out each element of his economic plan. He repeatedly said, this is what I want to accomplish in a second term. While he clearly sounded confident about what he had done, he didn’t say, give me a second term because of a job well done. He repeatedly said , I would like another term to do this or that — on energy, education and others. I think voters will feel they heard him talking about the changes and progress he wants to achieve.

The American Spectator:

Conventional wisdom going into last night’s debate was that Mitt Romney should cruise, having already decimated the president once. As long as Romney turned in a solid performance, as long as he brought back some of the magic of two weeks ago, Mitt-mentum would keep pushing deeper into the swing states.

Instead the opposite happened. Romney almost became a victim of his own success. Expectations for Barack Obama were so low that there was no question the president would shine. That plus an off-base moderator, a moronic audience, and several questions that seemed lifted from the DNC field manual meant Romney had his work cut out for him.

He was still impressive. But it’s a testament to Romney’s debating skills that he was able to survive last night’s obstacle course.

First the expectations. There was no way Team Obama was ever going to allow a repeat of the last debate, which Romney won according to the highest percentage of voters since 1984. And since the bar was so low, all the president had to do was top his last tongue-tied bumble-fest. He did and the off-key choirs of liberalism are singing his praises. For them, Obama won when he made it through his first sentence without going mute or spontaneously combusting. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

But despite his handicap here, Romney was steady. He didn’t overcompensate by arguing picayune details or trying to commandeer the debate. He didn’t become angry like Obama did at the end. (“YOU KNOW I MEAN WHAT I SAY!” the president declared after discussing Libya.) Instead he stuck to his arguments and drew the grand contrasts where they mattered.

He also delivered what might be the most illuminating and brutal assessment of the Obama presidency that we’ve heard all year.

James Joyner:

My Twitter stream seems to think Obama won this one, so I’m inclined to believe them.

My own reaction was, much like the vice presidential debate, frustration with the questions and the format. I hate the faux town hall “undecided voter” format when, in reality, the questions are pre-selected by the moderator. And, once again, I think the moderator was awful. Candy Crowley not only ignored the agreed-to rules by constantly asking her own questions–which was simply not her role tonight–but didn’t do much to facilitate an intelligent discussion.

Obama, as I fully expected, did not repeat his lethargic, distracted performance of the last debate. If anything, he overcompensated by coming across as a little too aggressive.

Romney was well prepared but clearly frustrated by both the format and the moderator, letting his pique at the rules not being followed show a bit too often.
In terms of substance, those of us who’ve been paying attention for a while didn’t learn anything new. But we seldom do. Both candidates scrupulously followed Rule 1 of these debates: answer the question you want to answer, regardless of what was actually asked. Obama did it a bit more fluidly than Romney but neither went too far astray

Wizbang:

So when Candy Crowley bailed Obama out by saying the President did call the assassination a terrorist act she was dead wrong and should acknowledge that she got her facts wrong.

Even more galling is that the American people know that the Obama administration and Obama himself would not characterising the assassination as a terrorist attack two weeks later in his speech at the U.N. or on ABC’s “The View.” The Washington Post has a timeline of the administrations statements that refutes Obama’s claim here.

The President lied to the American people tonight. Next week’s debate is a foreign policy debate and by then it will be common knowledge that the President lied about this tonight. Let’s hope the next moderator doesn’t feel compelled to take over for the President and answer questions for him…

It’s also another chance for Romney to make an issue of this. He can and will do a better job of highlighting the administrations failure. If he needs some advice he should see Senator’s McCain, Graham and Ayotte’s statement last night.

Liberal Values:

Barack Obama showed up for tonight’s debate and achieved a decisive, and necessary, victory after his poor showing two weeks ago. Romney was often incoherent as he avoided answering questions. He set a new record for flip-flopping as he contradicted himself on jobs in the same debate. Romney argued both that the government doesn’t create jobs and claimed he would create jobs. His stock answer to many questions was “I know how to do that” without ever saying how. He later gave a variation, claiming he has done things for the economy in Massachusetts. If that is the case, why was he a one-term governor, and why is he trailing Obama by over twenty points in Massachusetts?

Romney outright avoided answering questions such as whether he supported equal pay for equal work (in the past opposing this). He hid from his past positions opposing reproductive rights. Candy Crowley chastised Romney for failing to answer the question about assault weapons. Romney thought he was going in for the kill, repeating the right wing spin on Libya. Unfortunately for Romney, Crowley was in the Rose Garden when Obama did mention terrorism the day after the attack. Obama demonstrated that Romney has adopted views far to the right of George Bush, and Romney even gave him the opening to challenge Romney on his 47 percent comment.

…..The big question is the degree to which this turns things around. Obama appeared to have a sure victory going into the first debate. The combination of a poor debate style and repeated news reports of his loss gave considerable momentum to Romney over the past two weeks. I fear that the poor impression from the first debate will still cost Obama some votes, but the second debate should shore up Obama’s lead in key states such as Ohio. The Democratic candidates have now won two out of three debates, with one left to go.
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The Guardian:

Barack Obama secured the comeback he desperately needed in the second presidential debate against Mitt Romney, finishing the night on top after a series of fierce clashes in which the two made no attempt to hide the extent of their personal hostility.

…..Deriding Romney for what the Obama campaign sees as a belated shift to the centre, Obama portrayed him as more extreme than George W Bush on social issues, particularly women’s rights.

Obama needed a big performance after his dismal failure in the first presidential debate in Denver. That 3 October debate was dominated by Romney and started the president’s poll slide, leaving the two in a dead heat less than three weeks from election day.

Obama will have lifted Democratic morale and may have done enough to slow – or even arrest – the crisis.

It will be several days before the first reliable polls appear but a snap poll by CNN awarded the debate 46% to Obama and 39% to Romney, while CBS put it as 37% Obama to 30% Romney.

Obama, listless in Denver, was transformed in the second debate: focused, animated and combative. The president grew in confidence in the later stages of the night, while Romney, confident at the start, began to fade.

Obama’s campaign team said Obama turned in the peformance it had expected him to produce two weeks ago.

The former White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, reinstated to the Obama team as an adviser, said: “The president knew he did not do well two weeks ago. He knew he had to step up his game tonight and Mitt Romney was left looking uncomfortable”.

The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohen thinks Obama clearly won this debate and asks:

Will the voters see it the same way? Will this performance change the dynamics of the race? Again, I really don’t know. On the jobs plan, for example, voters haven’t exactly embraced it even though economists have suggested it would reduce unemployment.

But I know that Obama made a strong, honest, and coherent argument for renewing his presidency—and for stopping Romney from getting a chance of his own.

From Balloon Juice live blogging:

10:44—Obama is the clear winner tonight. The only exchange I thought Romney won was the “wrong track” answer where Romney just listed economic statistics. It did not engage Obama’s answer but it was punchy and crisp and sound bite worthy.

Bloomberg’s Josh Barro:

I guess you want to know who won the debate, and the answer is President Barack Obama. He was as alive tonight as he was asleep two weeks ago. He defended his record and called out Mitt Romney on his flip-flops. Romney looked defensive and rattled, particularly when he badly botched the exchange on Libya.

But setting aside the horse race, I found the substance of tonight’s debate incredibly depressing, because neither candidate made a remotely convincing case that he can fix America’s economy.

Romney repeatedly talked about his “five-point plan,” which is a rehash of Bush-era policies. It has no content aimed at the specific problems of our time: weak demand, high unemployment and a still-troubled housing market.

Obama touted his misguided fetish for manufacturing and green jobs, as though what America needs is the federal government deciding which industries should grow. He combined those talking points with platitudes about education.

That’s not to say I’m surprised. If Obama had a serious economic agenda, he would presumably be working to implement it. Instead, his administration appears resigned to plod along in a tepid recovery that will leave unemployment above 6 percent for years to come.

And if Romney has a serious economic agenda, he has worked very hard to ensure that nobody finds out what it is.

–The Daily Mail:

A bristling Barack Obama went on a relentless attack in the second presidential debate, but his rival Mitt Romney gave no ground as the two men clashed repeatedly during angry and at times electric exchanges on Tuesday night.

Clearly arriving with a different game plan after his lacklustre performance in Denver two weeks ago, Obama assailed Romney on his tax rate, his tax plan, his stance on the auto bailout, women’s rights and his plans to stand up to China.

And this time he didn’t shy away from personal assaults on Romney’s wealth, his record at Bain Capital and those now infamous secretly recorded remarks on the ‘47 per cent’ – all of which he failed to mention the first time the pair clashed.

The pair bordered on being physically aggressive, coming toe-to-toe and looming over each other as they held their hands up at each other on the red-carpeted stage.

The National Journal’s Ron Fournier:

Like two roughnecks squared off on a playground, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney invaded each other’s personal space, raised their voices, and fought. “It is just not true,” the president said. “It is true,” his rival replied. You could almost hear both men thinking: “Same to you and more of it.”

If you like to see presidential candidates fight for the job, if you want a passionate dialogue over big issues that matter, you got what you wanted on Tuesday night. If it’s civility you seek, you’re sunk.

Who won? The answer may be Obama, because his goal following a catastrophically sluggish first debate was so clear: Show some life. And, indeed, the president aggressively criticized Romney, labeling him a hypocrite and a liar who favors the rich at the expense of the middle class and poor.

But Romney got his licks in, too, wrapping a miserable economy around the incumbent’s neck. “The middle class is getting crushed by the policies of a president who does not understand what it takes to get the economy working again,” Romney said.

Bottom line: Obama and Romney scored points while turning off independent voters with their point-scoring. Democratic and Republican partisans will find reason to celebrate the debate but it likely did nothing to reshape the closely fought race.

The town-hall format posed a challenge for the candidates because it’s difficult to launch a political attack while fielding questions from the audience without appearing to ignore the questioner. Obama and Romney didn’t seem to care – indeed, neither of them appeared to connect well with the crowd – but perhaps that wasn’t their point.

The National Journal’s Beth Reinhard:

President Obama in Tuesday’s debate finally showed the nerve demanded in an election when most voters think the country is on the wrong track.

Think about it. The economy is flailing, the national debt is spiraling, and the Middle East is convulsing. How dare he ask for a second term? After a workmanlike speech at his nominating convention and a listless first debate against Republican nominee Mitt Romney, he dared showing confidence and even swagger while touting first-term accomplishments and delivering both expected and surprising blows to his opponent. Stick with me. I’m worth it. Him? He’s no good.

The president also got a nice boost from a handful of questioners who asked about topics he clearly relished. A young woman gave Obama the chance to talk about being raised by a single mother and hard-working grandmother and to brag that the first bill he signed makes it easier for women to seek back pay for wage discrimination. A question about illegal immigration allowed the president to light into Romney for recommending “self-deportation” and for saying he would veto legislation allowing undocumented kids to stay in this country. Romney muscled through those questions, pointing to his diverse Cabinet as governor of Massachusetts and stressing his support for legal immigration, but those topics did not give him much rope to trip up the president.

Obama got lucky, but he also showed the moxie that could help him break away from Romney in the homestretch.

Still, the debate lacked that singular moment, that one knockout punch or cringe-inducing gaffe, that could change the trajectory of a race that goes from tight to tighter and back to tight. Romney was passionate on the point that Obama’s economic policies haven’t worked, leaving undecided voters with a lot to think about over the next three weeks. Romney seemed to pick up where he left off in the first debate, projecting ease and self-assurance in the first question from a college student worried about his future.

The New York Post:

President Obama went for the jugular in last night’s presidential debate rematch with Mitt Romney, rolling out a barrage of attacks that he failed to unleash in their Oct. 3 brawl in Denver.

In tense and angry exchanges, the two clashed over the root of the country’s economic troubles. “What Governor Romney just said isn’t true,” Obama asserted early, in one of his first forceful shots.

Romney promoted a five-point plan to turn the economy around with some of the same crisp language that threw Obama back on his heels at their first meeting.

This time, though, Obama had a ready answer: “Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan. He has a one-point plan.

“And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules. That’s his philosophy in the private sector, that’s been his philosophy as governor, that’s been his philosophy as a presidential candidate.”

Romney fired back with a withering attack on Obama’s economic record — frequently cutting him off, jousting with the moderator, even venturing into Obama’s personal space in tense exchanges.

Talking Points Memo:

Mitt Romney was ready for President Obama to come out swinging after his barely-there performance in the last debate.

He wasn’t ready enough.

A focused and combative Obama kept Romney on the defensive from early on, accusing him of rigging his policies to favor the rich, trying to hide his conservative positions, and above all not telling the truth. Over and over, Obama responded to Romney’s answers with the same refrain: “It’s not true.”

Romney surrogates acknowledged the shift, suggesting the contest was a narrower Romney victory, but that Obama favored “style” over “substance.”

“I think [Romney] did very well because it’s not a style election,” Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) told TPM.

“I think on style the president clearly brought a more enthusiastic performance, but … at the end of the day the substance is what’s really going to make a difference,” RNC spokesman Sean Spicer said.

John Sununu called it an “even grade” for both debaters, saying the town hall style format made it harder for either to break out.

It was the mirror image of Obama’s supporters two weeks ago, who used the same “style v. substance” talking point over and over again in the hours after the first debate.

That wasn’t the line this time. Obama “won overwhelmingly,” according to Obama’s debate sparring partner, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA). “I think tonight Mitt Romney’s campaign fell away,” Kerry said, adding the president showed he has “a mission, a vision, and facts.”

While Romney held his own for most of the debate, he stumbled badly discussing Libya, an issue where the White House is facing criticism for its security decisions and intelligence gathering. The result was the most memorable moment of either debate.

The Daily News’ Mike Lupica:

This time Barack Obama showed up. The question is whether or not it was a couple of weeks too late, if he did enough on Long Island to undo the damage he did to his campaign and his chances at a second term in that first debate in Denver.

For too much of his first term, Obama has acted like an imperial leader of his country, not just with Republicans in Congress laying for him from the beginning, but even with his own advisers. And when he was finally on the stage with Romney in Denver, he acted as if he couldn’t stand up without speechwriters or TelePromTers, almost acted as if he couldn’t be bothered, and let Romney back into this.

It was different at Hofstra, plenty different, and not just in the moments when they were talking about assault weapons, the subject of guns in America finally making it into the presidential conversation.

“Gov. Romney was for an assault weapon ban until he was against it,” the President said.

The moment, though, that will be remembered from this night was when the conversation finally got around to Libya, four dead Americans there, one of them our ambassador to that country. And it is not as if the President explained why there were such conflicting versions of the attack, all this time later, because he did not.

Romney had called out Obama for making a campaign stop in Vegas the day after these deaths, roughed him up good on that one. But Romney conveniently forgot that he had issued an idiotic statement on the events in Libya before he had more than a bumper-sticker worth of facts.

So the President came to the front of the stage, turned and eyeballed Romney again and said this, in a voice full of razor blades:

“The suggestion that anybody on my team is playing politics or misleading when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive.”

More than the policy differences between Obama and Romney — which came through from both men as if they were holding bullhorns instead of microphones — what you saw at Hofstra, truly, was this:

The amount of respect these men have for each other is small enough to fit inside a shot glass.

And you saw it from Romney on this night, did not see him backing up, either, Romney making it clear from the start that he didn’t care whether the other guy was the President or not, all he saw moving around the stage with him was an opponent.

You certainly saw that early on, about 20 minutes in, when they were going at each other about energy, the two of them right there, a few feet apart, and Romney said to Obama, “You’ll get your chance in a moment, I’m still speaking.”

Business Week’s Josh Green:

I thought Mitt Romney’s second debate was nearly as bad as Barack Obama’s first debate. Two weeks ago, Obama seemed to have no awareness of what he was doing wrong, and he spent the evening staring at the lectern and searching for something to say. Romney seemed to suffer from a similar malady Tuesday night, imagining himself as winningly assertive while coming across as peevish, over-aggressive, and fussily obsessing over the rules like Tracy Flick in Election. In the town hall setting, Romney’s constant interruptions of the moderator, Candy Crowley, and the president, seemed rude in a way they did not when the two candidates stood together onstage.

Obama, after a nervous start, generally appeared calm and poised; temperamentally, he’s much better suited to this format. But his greatest strength was that he showed up prepared. Romney relied heavily on brute assertion. Obama’s answers took the form of his citing an earlier promise he made, followed by facts about what he’d done to meet it. Asked by an audience member how he would improve middle-class fortunes, Obama replied that he had promised to cut taxes for the middle class and had done so by $3,600 per family, and he had promised to help small businesses and then cut taxes for them on 18 occasions.

Often these answers segued into broader philosophical differences with Romney. Obama’s answer on the middle class, for instance, culminated with an explanation as to why it is important to include new revenue sources along with tax cuts—a point Romney disagrees with, but that registers highly with independent voters. Obama repeated this on issues ranging from women’s rights, equal pay, and immigration to the foundations of the social contract. It helped, too, that Obama injected some necessary (though still cutting) humor when comparing his own meager pension to Romney’s fortune.

Romney, too, came equipped with plenty of facts. But in his answers, he seemed to be mentally shuffling through his talking points, often without managing to pull the right one. The question about women’s rights in the workplace drew a wandering response about the unemployment rate and job prospects for college graduates. What he did say on the topic was a bit misleading. Whatever efforts Romney made to hire women as Massachusetts governor, the Boston Globe’s live fact-check noted during the debate that none were partners during Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital.

-From Salon’s Alex Pareene’s live blogging:

Obama says he doesn’t believe the government can create jobs, but then to make it up to the liberals he brings up 47 percent. “Who do you think he was talking about,” Obama asks. Closes pretty strong, really! And then people mill around, for a while, as we get ready for Chris Matthews to shout with excitement.

“He’s the guy who won’t turn off his phone on the airplane,” says Chris Matthews, who is SO EXCITED. Well that was fun, actually!

HEY BEFORE THIS GETS WEIRDLY SPUN: The amazing thing about the Libya terror moment wasn’t that Crowley corrected him, it was that THE AUDIENCE SPONTANEOUSLY APPLAUDED AFTER SHE DID SO.

And I’m done.

-ABC’s Rick Klein:

He was fired up. He was ready to go.

Where he was taking the second presidential debate, though, was slightly fuzzy until President Obama grabbed a chance to look like a president.

Not until an exchange on Libya — close on the heels of a petty-but-buzzy attack on pension size — did the president hit a stride in tonight’s debate. He declared it “offensive” to suggest that politics played into his administration’s handling of the tragic attack in Benghazi.

“That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president, that’s not what I do as commander-in-chief,” Obama said.

The president took a subject that should have been a sore spot and turned it around. He was having a decent debate to that point, but that exchange — including his call for a fact-check on when he labeled Benghazi a terrorist attack — made it something more than that, the victory his campaign desperately needed.

Obama fought back tonight. He attacked Mitt Romney and his record, he walked the stage with confidence, and he likely did himself a whole lot of good in terms of satisfying his base that he still wants the job he’s seeking anew.

Romney delivered a second strong debate. He had Obama on his heels, almost physically aggressive at times in confronting the president with a record he’ll never be fully comfortable defending.

He even squeezed in a way to rebut the infamous “47 percent” comment that wasn’t asked about in his first debate.

“I want 100 percent of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future,” Romney said.

There will be no serious Republican hand-wringing over Romney’s performance, nothing akin to the Democratic angst after Obama’s first debate. Romney brought energy and passion to his arguments, and made clear he very much belongs on the stage.

Time’s Joe Klein:

I don’t know who “won” this debate. The President won on the substance. He was, obviously, far better–sharper, more energetic, more effective–than he was in the first debate. In the crucial first half-hour, he successfully hammered Romney on his baloney-laced tax plan; he mentioned that Romney wanted to cut funding for Planned Parenthood on at least 3 occasions, perhaps more, perhaps one too many; and demonstrated Romney’s inconsistency by pointing out that Romney, the great defender of fossil fuels, had once stood in front of a coal plant in Massachusetts and said “This plant kills” and shut it down. It was a strong performance by the President, capped by his stirring response to the question about the assault on the Libya consulate (and abetted by Candy Crowley’s apt fact-checking: Obama had indeed called it an “Act of Terror” on the day after the attack, in the Rose Garden). But Romney had some very strong moments as well–on crucial issues like the economy and the President’s record. He was a plausible candidate for President, especially for people who haven’t followed the meanderings of his policy positions–or his utter refusal to provide details–very closely.

Most political debates are like this. There aren’t very many clean wins or losses. The candidates work on the audiences they’ve targeted–women for Obama; small business for Romney–and few minds are changed. The number of minds that are changeable at this point in this race is so miniscule that I can’t guess which candidate did better at influencing the truly undecided–which is why I can’t say who won. And I do think the bickering hurt both candidates, especially among women (and therefore may have hurt Obama more–although the President’s substantive answers on questions affecting women were much stronger than Romney’s).

Josh Marshall:

Romney did well. Obama did better. And increasingly better over the course of the evening. I said earlier this evening that a candidate always has to be really careful getting into fights or going on the attack in a Townhall format. But I think Obama pulled it off. In fact, he managed to effectively balance an unwieldy mix of goals he brought into the debate. Be tough. Be presidential. Connect with the audience. Reengage supporters. Push an effective critique of Mitt Romney. Over the course of 90 minutes the cadence of tension and body language and power slowly arched in Obama’s favor.

Two moments stand out to me.

First was the engagement on Libya. This was supposed to be where Romney delivered the coup de grace. But Obama held his own and more. He overmatched Romney.

And then there was that moment. Not possible to rehearse or affect. The Romney team has gotten themselves into such a lather about this non-scandal of Obama not using the word ‘terrorism’ until days or weeks later that Romney couldn’t imagine that Obama could have said it on day one. Again, you can’t fake that.

That look. I’ve got hit! Are you sure that’s what you mean? Is everyone else seeing this? Romney was downright giddy. But of course anybody who covers or watches the news knows that’s exactly what Obama said. And Candy Crowley had no choice but to correct Romney. Watch it here.

It was a small humiliation but one that may stand in for many more untruths Romney has uttered and never been called on.

Then there was the final engagement where Obama literally had the last word on the 47%.