Who Won the Presidential Debate: 2 Moments That Will Shape the Minds of Voters

Often, our opinions of people and issues solidify in breakthrough and memorable moments. There were two distinct instances tonight, where one candidate shined and the other didn’t, that might have an outsized effect on how these two men are perceived.

For Obama, his shining moment was on so-called women’s issues. One of the audience members, the youngest woman to ask a question tonight, asked why women make 72% of what their male counterparts do for the same job. Obama’s response was memorable. Off the bat, he mentioned the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which makes it easier for people to sue their employers for not receiving equal pay for equal work. (On a side note, the story of Lilly Ledbetter, the woman for whom the bill is named, is anger inducing.) Obama said, “It starts with that kind of advocacy” and forcefully noted “women’s issues” are “family issues, they’re economic issues.” Obama finished by saying that he wants his two girls to have the same opportunities as anyone’s sons, which was a great segue to….

Obama & Romney on Women in the Workplace


Mitt Romney, who has five sons, and gave an almost cringe-inducing response in comparison. He mostly talked about recruiting women to join his cabinet as governor of Massachusetts and in doing so said, “they gave me binders full of women ….” (Uhh….?) 

He also said, "If you’re going to have women in the workforce, sometimes they need to be more flexible....” I'm sure it could be exlained, but the way he said it made it sound like not having women be part of the workforce would be a fine alternative.

Where Romney really did shine was in his response to an audience member that said he felt let down by the last four years and that his enthusiasm for Obama was waning. To that, Romney eloquently listed a string of promises that Obama made and hasn’t delivered on, from “5.4% unemployment” to a plan to make Medicare and Social Security sustainable to immigration reform to “cutting the deficit in half.” “He doesn’t understand what it takes,” Romney said of Obama in a line that he riffed on throughout the evening. “He’s a great speaker, except we have his record to look at.”

Obama had a difficult time, understandably, suggesting that the last four years were anything but hard and it is his Achilles heel.

These were two moments from tonight’s debate, on a response to “women’s issues” and the difficulty of the last four years, where things came together for each candidate, for better or worse.

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Michael McCutcheon

Michael was formerly special projects editor at Mic. Prior to that, he worked at the Open Society Foundations on electoral reform. A native Seattleite, he's still mad about the SuperSonics.

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