The second presidential debate is in the books, and it's time for first impressions. And second impressions. Anything deeper than that will have to wait until I've fully digested this evening's contest.
President Barack Obama won Tuesday's meeting at Long Island's Hofstra University, but not so overwhelmingly that Republicans will be forced to admit it, as Democrats had to when the president blew it two weeks ago in Denver. Obama was crisp, energized and genial, while Republican nominee Mitt Romney was (early on) aggressive and forceful, but seemed to lose steam and purpose as Obama came on strong.
And, for whatever reason, The questions did seem to be easier on Obama than Romney, though a Democrat would argue this is because Romney's stances are harder to defend, and certainly seem to hold less empathy when directed at the average citizen. That's just a truth: Conservative views lack the warm fuzzies that sell liberal policies.
So what were the top moments?
For Obama, getting moderator Candy Crowley to back up his version of what he said the day after the Sept. 11 Benghazi attack in Libya was a real highlight. Because Romney focused overly on that issue, he masked what could have been very strong points for him: that the administration called the violence a spontaneous uprising when it wasn't, and may have denied requested security increases for that embassy. Obama also scored huge points when at the close of the debate, Romney opened the door to a whipping by saying he was for 100 percent of Americans. That gave Obama the opportunity to close by chastising Romney for his "47 percent" remark, and because that was the last moment of the debate, and the final impression, it is going to live on in viewers' minds.
For Romney, the simple reiteration that Obama promised to solve unemployment and halve the deficit in his first term and hasn't done it remains his biggest weapon, and he went to it often at Hofstra.
But that, again, would be a stronger point if the Republican challenger would get more specific on how he's going to create those 12 million jobs, and how he's going to pay for massive tax cuts and an increase in military spending.
As for the moderator, Candy Crowley, she did everything she possibly could to keep the guys in line, and just could not. They refused to be silenced when they thought they really had to make a point, and short of putting them in a timeout, which she has no ability to do, she was somewhat weaponless. Romney was worse than Obama on this core, because he combined breaking the rules with whining about the fact that Obama was breaking them. Romney has done this since the interminable Republican primary debates, and doesn't seem to understand how petulant it makes him look.
The progress of the debates sets up so such a clear showdown for Monday night's final matchup in Boca Raton, Fla., that if it were boxing, we'd call it a fix. Each side has won one debate, the rubber match remains, the race is close and it's everything the networks could have asked for in a final battle.
Well, they could have asked for the right to sell commercials, but it wouldn't have been granted.