Who Won the Presidential Debate: Obama Won, Improved on Denver Debate Performance

At the beginning of the town hall debate, it was looking like a repeat of the first debate in Denver. Romney once again came out swinging, dominating the floor and hammering Obama on the economy. President Obama seemed timid by comparison.

But gradually, things changed. In front of a small audience at Hofstra University in Long Island, President Obama got his groove back. He seemed fluid where Romney seemed brash. He defended his record with conviction even as Romney was speaking forcefully and competently about Obama’s failure to lower unemployment. He made a strong case on Libya, sounding presidential as he refuted the Romney campaign’s suggestion that he and his cabinet misled the public on the Benghazi attacks. On gun control, he seemed knowledgeable and empathetic as he stressed the importance of decreasing violence without endorsing an assault weapons ban, a move that would have put him in jeopardy with pro-NRA voters. On immigration, he hammered Romney hard for Romney’s earlier conservative stances on the issue.

Still, Romney didn’t exactly lose this debate. He just didn’t win it. His answer on the difference between him and President George W. Bush was a tour de force. He managed to summarize, and quite effectively, his entire campaign message — that he’ll succeed where Obama has failed: the economy. But by the end, Romney was no longer able to answer for the president’s attacks against his positions, and he didn’t control the room the way Obama did. 

A big part of the reason that Obama seems to have won this debate is his poor performance two weeks ago in Denver — expectations were pretty low coming into tonight’s contest.  All President Obama had to do tonight was show that he could control the discussion and attack Romney more aggressively. And he did. Governor Romney managed to keep the focus on Obama’s bad economic record, but he failed to make inroads the way he did two weeks ago. I would not be at all surprised if Obama’s performance tonight goes a long way towards preserving his tenuous lead in the battleground states.

For full coverage of the debate, including real-time analysis and play-by-play, see here.