Obama did not forfeit the debate as last time, and took his cue from Joe Biden in interrupting and muttering while Romney spoke, so his energy made it an entertaining night. Nevertheless, the same theme as in Denver emerged — Romney more often providing specific proposals and detailed critiques, and Obama preferring more often emoting and running more on hypotheticals, as if he were not an incumbent with a depressing record that he is obligated to defend.
A key moment was Libya, and that is bad for the Obama cause, even if Romney let Obama slightly off the hook. Obama frowned and got defensive and then blew it by disingenuous explanations — claiming that almost immediately after the attack, he had labeled it an act of terrorism, omitting that on numerous occasions in the next two weeks he most certainly did not say that clearly at all, and declared either that it was the fault of a video or that he did not have enough information. Libya and oil-and-gas are losing issues for Obama; both are central to national security and they will be the center of the next debate. Obama’s argument that private drillers produced more oil and gas despite rather than because of his policies is not a winner.
I think the debate was a draw, and so Romney’s ascendance may well continue. Obama did better than in Denver and will energize his base by his competitiveness, but not better to the degree that he arrests Romney’s momentum or wins back independents. Next-day reflection, fact-checking, and selecta-quotes, as in the case of the VP debate, may well favor the Republican. Romney did well despite once again being given less talk time, an inept moderator, and a silly town-hall forum.
The biggest losers? The pathetic staged town-hall format: The questions are preselected and the questioners not spontaneous and often clumsy. They seemed unenthusiastic and their presence impeded a fuller exchange of views.
Ms. Crowley was out of bounds by selectively attempting to offer real-time fact-checking — endorsed by Obama (“Say that a little louder, Candy!”) — and fact-checking, no less, that was not quite factual. Nemesis struck when, in the middle of her clumsy attempts to offer a lifeline to a stumbling Obama on Libya, she had a deer-in-the-headlights look and an exasperated stutter, almost as if to say, “Why am I giving myself away?”
Final verdict: Again, I think polls and post-debate focus and reflection will suggest Romney did better than the immediate consensus of a draw.