I think Romney executed what must have been his strategy nearly flawlessly: reassure people that he’s not a bomb-thrower; project strength but not bellicosity; go out of his way to say how many Obama policies he agrees with to create a sense of his reasonableness; focus on the big picture of a world that seems out of control; get it back to the economy as much as possible; and communicate a real passion for the future.
That said, he was shaky at the beginning and strangely mentioned Mali a couple of times. I hope his team is going to clean up his Afghanistan answer because it certainly sounded like a President Romney would remove U.S. troops entirely after 2014, rather than leaving some sort of follow-on force. You can tell how much more comfortable he was whenever he started talking about domestic issues.
President Obama, as you would expect of a president, knew a lot. He was the aggressor, coming at Romney as much as possible. As many people have noted, he seemed more like the challenger than the president. He got off a snappy line about horses and bayonets in the discussion of the navy, but it probably won’t play well in Newport News. He was strong on the bin Laden raid. But he sometimes came off as petulant and mad rather than forceful.
Overall, this night is the capstone on a successful series of debates for Romney. He reset the race in the first debate, and he established himself as a credible commander-in-chief in this one. His final statement was simply terrific — he looked and sounded presidential and made a very effective direct appeal to voters. He enters the final two weeks of the campaign in a much stronger position than most people could have imagined four weeks ago.