President Barack Obama seemed to finally figure out what to do in a debate—to assert and negate, in essence to clash and cross swords with Governor Mitt Romney on any issue on the table.
As a result, the second debate was far from the steamroller for Romney as in the first debate.
I expected the town hall format to be a tad more folksy and interactive. But the crowd of undecided voters assembled at Hofstra University were just props in the middle of a real fight between Obama and Romney. Both came out ready, asserting and countering even outside the rigid debate format. It created a challenge for the moderator Candy Crowley, who did an admirable job keeping decorum and keeping the debaters on point, at one time correcting Romney on Obama’s response on Libya, the feistiest moment of the debate.
But to me, while Romney seemed to be level with his last performance, the president’s more energized approach left the lasting overall impression that his performance on this night was greater than Romney’s—maybe even enough to erase the memory of the president’s first debate lapse. Perhaps for his base. As for undecideds, that’s not so clear.
From the very first question, the style and substance of both was apparent. To the Adelphi student who asked if he would have a job on graduation, Romney had the empathy, but no real plan. Obama came out with an answer that was like a microscosm of the whole debate, including the goal of creaing high-paying manufacturing jobs, a jab in about Romney’s Detroit stand, tax code revisions, business incentives, energy plans.
In the same two-minute answer, Obama scored his highest response from CNN focus group members with this line:
“We got to make sure we have the best education system in the world, and the fact that you’re going to college is great. But I want everybody to have a great education and we’ve worked hard that student loans are available for folks like you.”
The only negatives for me in the debate came when the combatants crossed the line, turning the civility of parry and riposte into a street brawl. I kept wondering if any of this was scoring with the demographic of choice in this campaign, women.
There were times Obama was clearly getting under Romney’s skin. One point Romney turned to engage Obama on an issue, but instead of taking the bait, the president merely looked at Romney and said in a dismissive tone, “Go on.”
That’s the way to use your status.
Other issues: Romney tried to attack Obama on immigration. But Romney had no response when Obama pointed out that Romney’s key immigration advisor is the author of Arizona’s “Show me your papers” law.
Still, I didn’t see any real knockout blow in this debate. Overall, I’d say Obama won on points in O/R II.
But because Obama played rope-a-dope in O/R I , the race is still closer than it should be.