Hudson Valley experts react to Obama-Romney town hall
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President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney clashed over a range of national issues from the economy and energy production to women's reproductive rights Tuesday night on Long Island in their second nationally televised debate.
The showdown at the Hofstra University, moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley, took place in a more intimate town hall format that called on audience members to ask questions of the candidates and, in many cases, for the candidates to answer them directly.
Newsday.com assembled several political observers to assess both candidates on their performance on criteria such as substance, style and demeanor and who made the better case for job creation and economic growth.
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Lisa M. Burns, Ph.D., is a former broadcast journalist and professor of communications/media studies at Quinnipiac University. Her book, "First Ladies and the Fourth Estate: Press Framing of Presidential Wives," was published in August 2008.
Martin Shaffer joined the Marist College faculty in 1994 and served as chairman of the political science department from 2001 to 2007. He teaches a courses in American politics, including a class called History of the American Presidency.
Evan Stavisky is one of the Northeast's best-known political and Democratic strategists. Formerly special projects director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, and legislative chief of staff, he was a key organizer of the 1992 Democratic National Convention that nominated Bill Clinton for president.
•Burns: I would call it a draw because both men spent most of their time covering the talking points we've heard for months. The real winners on substance were the audience members who asked thoughtful questions on issues that have not received much attention, including assault weapons, pay equity for women and the rising costs of everyday life.
•Edelman: I would give the edge to Obama, but not by much. I think both candidates did very well -- it was a good debate. The dynamic of the election is people in the swing states were swayed by the overperformance of Romney in the last debate and the underperformance of the president. Obama had the edge even with his closing statement.
•Malone: Barack Obama showed up as if his job depended on it, because it does. This was his night. He made his points and contrasted his policies with Romney's persuasively. Romney did not make his cases clearly on many issues, including on women and immigration.
•Shaffer: I think President Obama won the debate tonight both on style and substance (I definitely thought Obama lost the first debate big as did many people). This outcome was especially striking given his weak performance in the first debate. He had more energy, spoke in specific terms and was more aggressive in taking on Gov. Romney in a number of policy areas.
• Stavisky: President Obama. His answers were far more detailed and policy-driven. He brought his A game on issues ranging from the attacks on our embassy in Benghazi (in Libya) to the absence of detail in Gov. Romney's tax plan. Gov. Romney's meltdown on Libya was a serious error.
ON STYLE AND DEMEANOR
•Burns: When addressing the audience members asking the questions, it was a draw. Overall, Obama seemed more comfortable and confident. Romney often came off as a bully, especially when he was pushing for extra time and talking over both Obama and Crowley. But as the debate went on, both Obama and Romney showed a lack of civility, spending too much time sniping at each other. The audience was largely lost in a format that is supposed to focus on questions from regular people.
•Edelman: I think Obama got the better of Romney in a number of areas.
•Malone: Again Obama commanded the stage. Romney seemed unglued at times and petty when it came to things like time and taking questions. His combativeness didn't come off too well.
•Shaffer: I think Gov. Romney had a solid debate, but Obama's much better performance over last time seems to be the key takeaway here. Romney seemed to repeat the idea that he knows how to get the economy going but without offering specifics. It seemed the longer he responded to a question, the weaker the answer became.
•Stavisky: President Obama. The difference between his performance in this debate, compared to the first debate, is dramatic. From the first moment of the debate, he aggressively went after Gov. Romney and drew contrasts.
WHO MADE A BETTER CASE FOR JOB CREATION AND ECONOMIC GROWTH
•Burns: We didn't hear anything new on these topics.
•Edelman: Neither. There's no short-term solution. The better case is that in the long term, if we're going to come back, the only way to provide jobs is boost education to fill the technical jobs of the future.
•Malone: Romney was not as sharp as he was in the first debate on this point. This one went to Obama as well.
•Shaffer: On the economy, the differences between them was more clear in this debate. Obama was more clear on energy policy and budget policy than the first debate, and he seemed to be able to raise concerns with Romney's tax plans than in the first debate. Romney spoke in generalities this time and Obama's specificity, including using Romney approach of having a multiple-point plan, seemed to work well.
•Stavisky: President Obama. Gov. Romney's attempts to deflect discussion about his investments in outsourcing were fairly tone deaf. The differing discussions on China also demonstrate the differences between the candidates. While Gov. Romney focuses on labeling China currency manipulators, the president talked about saving 1,000 tire industry jobs. The president's approach resonates better with swing voters.
HOW DID THEY HANDLE TOWN HALL FORMAT
•Burns: Both candidates did a decent job addressing the audience members by mentioning their names and referring back to them, but too often their responses did not directly answer the question that was asked. And they got caught up in responding to their opponent's last comment rather than focusing on the audience member's question. When Romney decided to follow up on the point about women's health care before explaining how his policies differ from George W. Bush, it was insulting to the woman who asked the question.
•Edelman: They both did fine. They both went out to each of the speakers and addressed them by name, which is important, and trying to relate to them.
•Malone: Romney seemed awkward at times and stiff. On a few occasions, he seemed to challenge Obama's space on the stage. He seem to be strained as he tried to be as big as the president, and it didn't work.
•Shaffer: If this was the first debate I would say Obama wins more slightly tonight, but since the contrast with the first debate was so dramatic on Obama's part he will appear to have "won" by more. The debate will likely stem Romney's recent momentum, and he will need a strong debate performance in the last debate to regain the big Mo.
•Stavisky: The nature of the format seemed to favor President Obama. The town hall format requires candidates to connect with average people, which is not Gov. Romney's strength. Throughout most of the campaign, Gov. Romney has been viewed unfavorably by most voters. He turned that metric around after the first debate. It would be surprising if that remains true after the second debate.
•Burns: Candy Crowley inserted herself into the discussion way too much, especially in the early part of the debate. Her follow-ups were cutting into the time allowed for the questions from the audience. This wasn't a town hall debate -- it was a three-ring circus with Obama, Romney and Crowley all fighting for airtime.
•Edelman: She did fine, given the format. She was constrained by the format.
•Malone: She did as well as could be expected. But she seemed unprepared for the feistiness of both candidates. I'd give her a solid B.
•Shaffer: The moderator did a better job of controlling the debate than the first debate and followed up well on gas prices, tax policy and assault weapons (and the president's response to the embassy attack).
•Stavisky: Candy Crowley did an excellent job of managing an unruly format and two candidates eager to confront each other. She positioned herself as a traffic cop, as the representative of the audience members eager to ask questions, and as the defender of the facts.