President Barack Obama connected with the audience while Gov. Mitt Romney had a difficult time doing so and instead stuck to a businesslike recitation that was often not believable, said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic political consultant in Manhattan.
"Obama appeared more prepared, sharper, funnier, a master of rhetoric and warmer," Sheinkopf said. "Romney was, more often than not, on the defensive, appearing uncomfortable in the more intimate town hall setting. Winner Obama."
Stanley Klein, an LIU Post political science professor and a Suffolk GOP committeeman, said Obama and Romney came charging out of the gate and neither backed down.
"It was a fight, much different from the first debate. In this one, Mr. Romney attacked the last four years of the president's term. The president attacked Mr. Romney on policies -- primary and post-convention," said Klein. "Mr. Romney did it with great verve and the president answered it with great verve. It's a draw for this debate."
Obama edged out Romney, with the help of the Republican's aggressive demeanor and his "doubling down" of mistakes on the deaths the U.S. diplomat in Libya, said Doug Muzzio, political science professor at Baruch College in Manhattan.
On Romney's big misstep, even moderator Candy Crowley corrected him on how and when Obama described the Libyan attack as terrorism, one of several moments in a debate that will be a "fact checker's delight," Muzzio said.
This time, Obama was "counterpunching skillfully," while Romney was as aggressive as before, said Michael Dawidziak, who advised Republican George H.W. Bush on his White House run and founded Bohemia-based Strategic Planning Systems.
But the candidates probably did not capture many undecided voters, he said. "They both went back to playing to their bases instead of remembering 'Oh, this is for the undecided,' " Dawidziak said.
On who scored big and missed big, it was Obama, the political commentator said.
On women's job rights, the president failed to note that his Supreme Court picks were women, he said, but in the verbal punching over pensions, Obama was quick to say Romney's pension was bigger than his, a funny moment that identified him more as middle class.