Most analysts, though, felt Obama was more successful than his opponent in getting across the message he needed to: that he was the presidential one. Facial expressions reinforced that.
"Romney seemed to frown a lot," Glass said.
As for Obama, "The president made good eye contact, balancing it between his opponent and the moderator," Shuster said. "He also maintained a steady gaze, as if to say, 'What I am saying is on target.'" Shuster saw Romney's expression as more a grin than a frown or a smirk, as some called it — albeit a very uneasy grin.
"He had that grin when he listened to Obama, which to me said, 'I don't know what I'm going to say in response to this,'" Shuster said.
I AGREE, PART TWO:
The responses Romney did give were problematic for him on another level, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a professor of political communication at the University of Pennsylvania. While Obama got flak in Denver for nodding in agreement with his opponent, this time it was Romney who found himself agreeing with a number of Obama's pronouncements on foreign policy.
"You can't indict someone for a foreign policy you basically agree with," Jamieson said. And that was compounded by Romney's apparent reluctance to rebut a number of Obama's criticisms, she said.
"The danger for Romney is that he didn't respond to charges that he's inconsistent," Jamieson said. "He didn't specifically rebut much of anything."
Romney's moderate responses did have one big advantage, Jamieson added: They probably helped reverse the perception among some that he would be more likely to bring the country to war. She says a survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania has indicated that perception is a vulnerability for Romney.
HUMOR VS SNARK: THE BAYONET MOMENT
Who knew that Big Bird would have a moment this election season? And wasn't it even weirder when it was binders, that essential school supply, that emerged in the sunlight?
This time it was bayonets, after an Obama comment that was the most tweeted all evening and is probably just in the early stages of its pop-culture shelf life. When Romney repeated his criticism that the U.S. Navy is too small and has fewer ships than it did in 1916, Obama was ready:
"Well, governor, we also have fewer horses and bayonets," Obama said, painting Romney as out of touch. "We have these things called 'aircraft carriers', and planes land on them."
Was it snark, or simply a clever use of humor?
"I thought it was very effective — one of his best moments," said Paul, the Georgetown debate coach.
Shuster, at the University of Pittsburgh, said the best thing about the remark was how it illustrated, pithily, the president's view on military spending — one of the few foreign policy areas on which the candidates have real disagreements.
DOES IT ALL MATTER?
Now the existential question: Does any of it matter to the election results?
Pundits universally declared Romney the winner of the first debate, and Obama the winner, albeit by a much narrower margin, of the second. The president was perceived by many to have won the third, but perhaps a tweet from Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said it best.
"Glancing down Twitter," he tweeted. "Shocker: All D's think O won, all R's think R won."
Follow AP National Writer Jocelyn Noveck on Twitter at http://twitter.com/JocelynNoveckAP
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