By Teresa Welsh |
It had all the trappings of a pro wrestling match. An explosion of umbrage. A referee who wasn't quite impartial and was quite willing to inject herself into the fray. And two candidates going on and off script in their attempts to beat each other to a bloody pulp. In the end, it's hard to declare either candidate a victor in the second presidential debate Tuesday night in Hempstead, N.Y.
President Barack Obama certainly turned in a much better performance than in the first debate. The president assumed control quickly and dominated the first 30 minutes. But as the evening wore on, Mitt Romney asserted himself on the economy, taxes, and healthcare. He saved his best line for last: "We don't have to settle for [this]."
But because the town hall format favors style over substance and because the president improved so much over his first debate performance, it's hard not to give him a slight edge overall on the evening—as quickie post-debate polls did. But those same polls also revealed when it came to substance, Romney again hammered the president.
Romney was seen as far stronger on the economy and the deficit and as a stronger leader overall. He trapped the president into an outright lie about energy and viewers sensed it. Focus groups—even MSNBC's—gave Romney far higher marks. Frank Luntz's focus group—composed almost entirely of people who voted for President Obama in 2008—didn't see why Romney is considered a threat to the Y chromosome.
Romney did have a hiccup on Libya—aided and abetted by moderator Candy Crowley. When Romney said the president did not call the incident at our embassy in Benghazi a terrorist attack for 14 days, Crowley inexplicably stepped in to attempt to clarify the record. "[H]e did in fact, sir," call the incident an act of terror, she said. "Can you say that a little louder, Candy?" the president said, knowing his Christmas had just arrived on an issue that has dogged his campaign for weeks.
Fortunately for Romney, the final debate deals with foreign policy which gives him another opportunity to raise the topic. And fortunately for him, polling and focus groups indicate he lost little if any ground in this debate.
A knockout performance in Denver got Romney back into the race. A good—but not great—performance in Hempstead didn't hurt. Given he is still behind—Nate Silver's 538 blog still puts his chances of winning at just 35 percent—that means all the pressure is on the third and final debate.
Don't miss it. Given the action at times on Tuesday night, we might witness an all-out brawl.
About Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst
Brad Bannon President of Bannon Communications Research
Judson Phillips Founder of Tea Party Nation
Jamie Chandler Political Scientist at Hunter College
Lara Brown Assistant Professor of Political Science at Villanova University