In second US presidential debate, Obama stays sharp to a brittle Romney

President Obama turned in a better performance in the town-hall format than the first debate.
President Obama turned in a better performance in the town-hall format than the first debate.
Image: AP Photo / Charles Dharapak
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From the first answer of the debate, Democrats were relieved to see President Barack Obama defend his four-year record with enthusiasm and clarity. The slugfest with Republican contender Mitt Romney restored parity to the race, with pundits giving Obama a narrow win, and Romney mostly reprising his effective performance from the first debate, albeit interspersed with a few brittle moments. Based on a count of a transcript of the debate, after accounting for some stumbling and cross-talk, Obama also won in sheer verbiage: He uttered 8,260 words to Romney’s 7,207.

The first question, from a student named Jeremy about his  job prospects, set a tone: Romney laid out a scathing critique of the last four years without offering much in the way of an agenda, while Obama defended the specifics of his record and the plans ahead, assigning blame to the previous Bush administration and implying, with a large degree of accuracy, that Romney has the same plans.

Then it was on to gas prices, where Mitt Romney assigned more responsibility to government than is strictly, well, true, and the exchange quickly became testy.

On to tax reform, where the candidates went back-and-forth over the specifics of Mitt Romney’s tax plans.

The president got a favorable question about pay equity for women: he signed a law protecting the rights of women to sue for workplace discrimination; Romney couldn’t take a position on it for months. In his response, Romney mentioned recruiting female staff with “binders full of women,” an instant meme.

There were some poor economic analogies:

Immigration came up—finally—and sure enough it was tough for Romney, who associated himself with anti-immigration conservatives during his primary race.

Unseemly China bashing from both candidates, but Romney promised tariffs on Chinese currency to battle depreciation:

The turning, point, though was a question about the aftermath of the Benghazi attacks, where four US citizens were killed, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Although it might have been the moment that Romney had been waiting for, Obama kept cool, with the eventual support of moderator Candy Crowley who said Romney was wrong to assert that Obama hadn’t publicly recognized the attack as terrorism.

A last question about gun control inspired jokes among the left when Romney pivoted to family policy, but..

Voter preferences were revealed.

The results: