The Governor had less to make up for after his strong showing in the first debate. He performed well again – he was engaging throughout and began the evening in convincing fashion.
Romney certainly dominated the start of the debate. His argument that “he knows how to create jobs” resonates with Americans, especially after four years of a bad economy and an unemployment rate that just dipped below 8 percent a few weeks ago. He was also strong on energy, emphasizing the President’s weak record on taking advantage of oil, coal and gas options.
The discussion of taxes was good for Obama and Romney. They both emphasized that they were looking to bring relief to the middle class. Romney was still unable to identify the loopholes he plans to close and the deductions he would cut in order to reduce the deficit without having to raise taxes on the middle class. And while Obama was clear that he would raise taxes on top earners in the US in order to protect those in the middle, his policies over the past four years are still not convincing to the electorate. The result was a draw on the issue of taxes.
The tide began to turn in the President’s favor when women’s issues were brought up. From this point onwards, he was assertive and obviously confident in his stance while Romney became harsher and less in command. Obama transformed a question on women’s pay inequality into a defense of not only women’s equal pay rights, but also a defense of families that are struggling. The President touted Obamacare and the fact that contraception is now covered by insurance while Romney would repeal Obamacare and cut funding for Planned Parenthood. He was also stronger on immigration than Romney, citing the Governor’s suggestion that he would veto The Dream Act during the primaries.
Obama made a particularly stark point when he declared that Romney and G.W. Bush are the same on economic policy, but that Romney is actually more extreme than Bush on social issues. Obama will most likely benefit from this juxtaposition.
The biggest win of the evening for the President was on Libya, which should have been an easy victory for Romney. Obama made it clear that the buck stops with him on the Libya issue – he is responsible for everyone in his government and diplomatic service and there was a clear failure in Benghazi. The Governor allowed himself to become focused on the narrow question of whether Obama called the attack an act of terror on day one and not the larger policy issue and, indeed, policy failing. The President did, in fact, call it an act of terror and Romney was told to go back and look at the transcript by both Obama and Candy Crowley, an embarrassing moment for the Governor.
Both candidates surely had their convincing points this evening. Romney did begin stronger especially on the economy and energy. But the president won clear victories on social issues and foreign policy, something he was unable to capitalize on in the first debate.
Over the next few days we will know more about what the effect of the debate will be, if any, on the election. The CBS snapshot polls shows Obama with a 37-30 percent advantage, a fairly accurate assessment to my mind.
Tonight’s debate was a draw. Obama will be praised for his performance, but it remains to be seen if he will make up the ground he has lost over the past two weeks.