And the winner of the second presidential debate is…

Read few comments by experts.

David McCuanAssistant Professor of Political Science, Sonoma State University

Interesting debate tonight. Most important question is: Who wins a draw? In Ohio, that might be the President. In Florida, the might be former Governor Romney.

This race is that close. Did tonight change anything? Not fundamentally, but it is important. Here’s why…

This second debate is one where the future of the President’s re-election was at stake and for the challenger, former Governor Romney, does he continue to build on his trend of taking this race to an even split and even a lead in certain states?

In just two debates, the race has gone from a near certain Obama re-election to a dead heat.

Former Governor Romney focused on his economic “competence” & stewardship to a stronger economy.

President Obama, had a focused appeal on seeking out voter segments necessary to his re-election. These groups are also, according to recent polls, where many undecided voters rest and where the President since the first debate has been shedding voters lately – that is independent women and young people.

One reason this debate did not fundamentally alter the race – like we saw with the first debate – is that the key to victory in three weeks is about establishing what each candidate sees as their version of the American Dream. What does their candidacy represent for the future? What’s their “vision thing” for the future as President?

Who won that debate?

Neither candidate fully embraced answering that question.

For the President, he reassured his base and Democratic voters. That IS a victory…but just so.

For former Governor Romney, he has some leeway among the GOP base as he seeks to move to the middle in order to win the White House.

The biggest winner? Candy Crowley. Finally a moderator who took control and fact-checked and followed up on points and questions raised. Another winner is perhaps college students and the fiscal stress they face which received serious face time. With so much time devoted at the beginning to “Jeremy” the student set to graduate in two years and facing a difficult labor market, his question may have shed some light on the challenges that so many in the workforce, especially those ‘new’ to the workforce, have moving from school to a reasonable job.

Former Governor Romney was true to form in terms of how he pivoted to the middle in the first debate and sought to portray himself as that “champion of small business,” appealing to those voters over and over, as key elements of his base and his reach into swing voter territory.

Did the ground shift here in this debate? We haven’t seen evidence of that yet. Monitoring the Twitter-verse will tell us, along with some new polls released next week, how really fluid this race is at the moment.

What we have seen rather is that the the ground is moving towards the challenger….and solidifying around him to some degree. Gallup LV poll tell us about this movement over the last 7 days. That poll was released this morning. We need to see the settling in of this race with the next Gallup LV poll next Tuesday.

The President recovered some ground, but this race is really fluid. Is a basic plus for him, do a little better than a draw, enough really to slow to neutral the Romney post-Debate #1 surge? No, but it is enough to make this race even more unsettled than ever.

The President did not do one BIG THING. He did not lay out a vision for the future. He did fine…for Democrats.

Does it capture the middle and lessen the Big Mo’ of Romney? Probably. But it is not enough to grow some space or re-define this election. Not yet anyways.

Some additional points on this race and the debates so far: If the conversation and attention to the race is framed as, “Are you better off than you were 4 years ago?,” then the incumbent loses.

If the conversation and attention to race is, “Do you want to go back to the years of George W. Bush?,” then the incumbent wins.

In other words, if it’s a choice election, the incumbent loses.

If it’s an election about trust, the incumbent wins.

Crowley was BY FAR the best moderator we’ve seen so far…

Romney started strong…petered out a bit at the end.

This was not “No Drama Obama.” This was the President fighting for his political life and taking former Governor Romney seriously on a national stage, mano-a-mano.

We finally have that close, heated race that we thought we’d have all along.

Justin Vaughn, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Boise State University

I thought President Obama was much more engaged than the previous debate, and that in terms of energy and determination both candidates seemed even. Obama was probably more upbeat than Romney, less confrontational with regards to time-keeping matters. The town hall format made them engage with regular people, not just the moderator, which kept them in check more than we saw in the first debate that Jim Lehrer moderated. In terms of key moments, I found Obama’s rebuttal to Romney’s criticism on the handling of the killings in Libya to be probably the strongest moment for either candidate. The president seemed outraged and sincerely indignant that his staff’s devotion to the nation be questioned. Obama’s comment that Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan regarding jobs but rather a one-point plan that focuses on perpetuating the advantage the upper class has over everyone else was a strong and well-worded moment early in the debate. Another powerful moment for Obama was when he pointed out that Romney would be the last person who could be expected to be tough on China, given Romney’s history as an executive and his investment portfolio. The president’s response about the Lilly Ledbetter Act was a good response to the young woman’s question about gender pay equity.  Similarly, Obama’s response to Romney’s confrontation over the administration’s handling of oil leases on public lands was strong in that he took a complex issue and boiled it down to an understandable phrase (“use it or lose it”) that showed viewers how Romney’s attacks were inaccurate. Memorable moments for Romney were his continued reluctance to announce specific tax cut deductions that he would support allowing if his tax reform plan was successful and his firm position against any more legislation limiting guns.

In sum, Obama had more memorable moments but neither candidate performed badly.

Benjamin Bates, Associate Professor, Communication Studies, Ohio University

Barack Obama clearly learned from the last debate. His strong lead with “that’s not true” on education, jobs, energy prices, and taxes in response to Romney’s claims was clearly an attempt to recover from last week’s passivity. Although it is a more aggressive approach, it fits with Obama’s definition of himself as “genuine,” “serious,” and “honest,” with Romney representing the opposite. It may also help to stanch the loss of voters who viewed him as unable to stand up to Romney in the last go-around.

Mitt Romney continued with his strategy from the last debate. A steady reliance on statistics, referral to his five-point plan as the consistent solution, and a loose – perhaps inconsistent – relationship to positions he took earlier in the campaign. It was a winning strategy and is likely to retain some of the voters who were drawn to him after his strong performance in the first debate.

Obama appears to me focused on the next 4 years and his plans for the next term, while Romney was focused on the last 4 years. Romney was essentially asking Reagan’s question – “are you better off now than you were 4 years ago.” And, with Romney’s incisive use of statistics, the answer he wants the voters to get is “no.”

Obama is playing the same cards as Joe Biden did: the same main arguments, the same statistics, the same catchphrases, and some of the same cultural references. It appears that Obama is taking his lead from what worked in the Vice Presidential debates as if it was a testing ground for points he might be able to make. We saw this the most clearly when Obama used the 47% argument in the final answer. It was a risk to save the 47% when the moderator, had she followed the time limits, would not have allowed this question at all.

Candy Crowley easily opened herself to issues of bias. Her talking over was mostly over Romney and less over Obama; she allowed Obama to finish multiple sentences when he talked out of turn, but was much quicker to stop Romney’s talking out of turn. She also tended to ask harder follow-up questions to Romney than to Obama.

 

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