Obama’s Debate Comeback

Posted October 17th, 2012 at 6:59 pm (UTC+0)

The second U.S. presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney Oct. 16, 2012 was contentious from beginning to end. Photo: Reuters

But Will it Shift the Race?  

Whoa! Who was that guy Tuesday night?  He was like night and day compared to the first debate.  Barack Obama brought his “A game” to the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in New York, and in doing so it’s possible he saved his presidency.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.  There’s plenty of time still left.

It’s not that Mitt Romney was all that bad.  He wasn’t, except for a couple of unforced errors that could come back to haunt him in the final days.  This debate was all about whether the real President Obama would show up and get engaged in the campaign, and unlike the first debate, this time he did.  There was a different tone from the outset with Mr. Obama.  He was more aggressive and willing to challenge his Republican opponent.  There were moments when the two men walked toward each other as if in a gun duel in the Old West, and while neither seemed willing to back down, it was often the president who emerged with a slight edge.


Jousting on the Economy

Most of the debate focused on the economy, the president’s “Achilles Heel,” and a major point of success for Mr. Romney in their first debate.  Mr. Romney continued to make his points about jobs, the deficit, government spending and energy, but he didn’t seem quite as crisp as he was in the first debate two weeks ago.  Maybe it was the format.  Mr. Romney has often had problems relating to voters and questioners in settings like these and he didn’t seem as comfortable as the first time around.

President Obama makes his points during the second debate with Republican Mitt Romney, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, in Hempstead, New York. Photo: AP

By contrast, the president was much more forceful, both in defending his record and trying to make a case for another four years in office.  This has been an area of weakness for the president, with many commentators complaining that he provides little in the way of concrete plans about where he wants to take the country if he wins a second term.  Mr. Obama didn’t offer much new in this regard. But it was the way he presented himself, with authority and conviction, that at least gave the impression he does want a second term after all, something even some of his supporters were openly questioning after his first debate debacle.

To be fair to Mr. Romney, the Obama economic record is still his strongest point of attack.  His riff on job losses, deficit increases and general economic malaise of the past four years seems to resonate with many undecided voters and this should be a central theme of the Romney campaign moving forward.  In fact, every moment his campaign spends on something other than the economy may be a wasted moment with less than three weeks to go until Election Day.

But at times in the second debate, Mr. Romney started to veer back into his corporate CEO mode, which has been a major problem for him in the past.  At times he seemed petulant, pressing the president on his pension portfolio in response to an Obama comment about Romney investments in China and elsewhere overseas.  The president’s retort that he didn’t look at his portfolio as much as Mr. Romney because Mr. Romney’s was bigger brought chuckles from the normally placid Hofstra audience.


Obama’s Libya Moment

For the past few weeks the Romney campaign has been pounding on the administration’s handling of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens.  The Republican critique has focused on a shifting narrative from the administration about whether the attack was the result of terrorism or a more spontaneous reaction from locals upset about an anti-Muslim video that sparked outrage throughout the Middle East.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney accused President of mishandling the security of U.S. diplomats in Libya as part of the second presidential debate Oct. 16, 2012. Photo: AP

Mr. Romney has charged that the administration has been slow to acknowledge that the Benghazi attack was carried out by terrorists, and he again challenged the president about his remarks the day after the attack.  That brought the strongest retort of the evening from the president who said he was offended at the suggestion that his foreign policy team would engage in politics when national security issues were at stake.  Mr. Romney then pressed on about the president’s remarks the day after the attack in the White House Rose Garden, challenging the president’s assertion that he had mentioned acts of terrorism.  At that point debate moderator Candy Crowley of CNN jumped in and said the president had indeed referred to acts of terror in his remarks. The president gleefully urged her to repeat her comment, only “louder.”

To be fair, the president did say the day after the Libya attack that “no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.”  The Romney complaint is that this fell short of labeling the Benghazi attack specifically as an act of terror, which the Romney campaign says came many days later.  Mr. Obama, though, seized on the moment to look presidential in a way we don’t often see and that is likely to come through in the TV news replays of the debate in the coming days.  It’s also questionable how much voters will get into the weeds of this particular controversy even though the administration remains on the defensive about what it knew about the specifics of the attack and who was behind it.


Have Things Changed?

We’ll know more about what this means over the next several days as fresh public opinion polls are rolled out.  Most of the experts believe Romney’s decisive victory in the first debate had more impact on the race in his favor than anything that happened in the second debate.  But the reverberations over the Libya showdown in the second debate and Mr. Romney’s reference to “binders” full of women candidates for cabinet jobs in Massachusetts when he was governor are likely to be some of the lasting moments of the second debate, and that is probably not to Romney’s advantage.

Moderator Candy Crowley, center, applauds as President Barack Obama, left, shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the second presidential debate Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. Photo: AP

With his stronger performance in round two, President Obama has probably slowed the momentum toward Mr. Romney in the polls, both nationally and in several of the key battleground states where the election will be won or lost.  More importantly, Mr. Obama’s second debate performance is likely to spark some Democrats out of the funk they were in following the first debate.  So beginning with Vice President Joe Biden’s strong performance in his debate, and now the president’s stronger showing in his second debate, the Democratic Party base is likely to be reinvigorated a bit, which would clearly be good news for the Obama campaign.

I’m not sure what undecided voters took away from the second debate.  Some thought the two candidates got into too much mud-wrestling with each other and offered little in the way of fresh appeals to win over moderate voters.  But there are so few undecided voters left that both candidates are going to have to expend enormous energy over the final weeks in getting their own supporters out to vote, especially in key states like Ohio, Virginia, Florida and Colorado.

In the end, the team that brings out its best ground game and get-out-the-vote effort is probably going to win.



19 responses to “Obama’s Debate Comeback”

  1. Johnny says:

    The President was sensational. He absolutely destroyed all of Mitt Romney’s ridiculous arguments. Whoever is attempting to argue that Romney’s (medical care) plan is “better for people with pre-existing conditions” is fatally mis-informed. There have been major, international, independent studies that not only prove this to be untrue, but show that Mitt Romney’s overall proposed health care “plan” would leave 72 million American people without *any* insurance coverage whatsoever by the year 2020. … Finally, (Republican vice presidential candidate) Paul Ryan voted, actually voted, on-record, **against** American women being able to be paid the same rate as American men for the doing the same work and Romney supports this. It is 2012. In ten to fifteen years he will be looked back on as a major embarrassment for human/civil rights; not to mention, decency.

  2. kit says:

    President Obama looked Presidential, while Governor Romney looked small and petty. We need a leader like Obama who will look out for Americans, not only a select few.

  3. Kanon says:

    I don’t know what people are talking about when they say that economy is bad. I get multiple calls from recruiters everyday even when I am not looking for a job now. Almost all my friends are employed and the housing market is going up. The economy is much much better than it was 4 years ago. In 2009 it was almost in recession. Even the job numbers agree as the unemployment rate is under 8%. So Obama should really highlight the wonderful economic recovery that is happening, it’s going to be even better in the years to come. So Mitt Romney’s accusation that the econonic plans of the president is not working is false.

  4. Sergio Rodrigues says:

    At last, Obama was the real Obama yesterday. He made my day, or better my night!

  5. dirksenshoe says:

    If I may offer a retort from the past. Looks like Romney can dish it out but can’t take it. Why is this important? Anybody can be President in the good times, but the measure of a President is how will he react in bad times. Kennedy was cool in the missile crisis. Johnson stood by his beliefs in the battle for civil rights. Nixon pressed for the environmental protection in the face of conservative backlash. Carter would not start WW III in the Mid East.
    G.W. Bush went to pieces. He, in spite of advice from the military and the CIA, invaded Iraq, placated Pakistan with billions of dollars and allowed them to increase their nuclear weapons from three to 250.
    Again. Romney can dish it out. He just can’t take it.

  6. Pete says:

    During the second debate “Berry” asked a question of Mr. Romney
    Q: Hi, Governor. I think this is a tough question. Each of you:

    What do you believe is the biggest misperception that the American people have about you as a man and a candidate? Using

    specific examples, can you take this opportunity to debunk that misperception and set us straight?

    And part of Government Romney’s answer was:

    “…..I understand what it takes to — to make a bright and

    prosperous future for America again. I — I spent my life in the

    private sector, not in government. I’m a guy who wants to help,

    with the experience I have, the American people……'”

    From this answer Governor Romney in his own words acknowledged that he didn’t spend time in government business when he was governor and has no understanding or knowledge of working of US
    government. I had the impression that he has gained some good experience in government, bi-partisan, some knowledge and skills of senate, congress, policies, laws and the government and can
    be a leader in administration. But he confirmed that he has no knowledge, experience nor any skills in US government. I guess if he’s elected with his republican team we should be looking to
    purchase stocks of the publishing company that publishes ‘US Government for Dummies’, ‘Working in White House for Dummies’, ‘Capital and Capitol for Dummies’, ‘US Senate and Congress for
    Dummies’, and make room in the White House for such a library.

  7. larry says:

    Romney balanced the budget of the Olympics with a FEDERAL BAILOUT.
    10 billion in debt when obama took office.

  8. LuciaL says:

    As a New Zealander, I watched with great pleasure the debate. Americans would be doing a great disservice, not to give President Obama a second term. He was not only presidential, but showed compassion, empathy and courage. He will lead you through the darkness to a brighter tomorrow.
    Mitt Romney would take you back to the Bush era.

  9. Felix says:

    My own view is not whether Obama is better or not, but he is positively disposed towards peaceful world. Romney may likely invade another country.
    Obama is withdrawing American troops from foreign soils. Romney may move them back. He ( Romney) promised to spend more on military. That could mean financing another war. Obama promised to cut spending on military, meaning that he was not preparing to wage any war.
    The choice is America’s but the impact is on all us.

  10. Felix says:

    What the world need now is not more war but peace.
    Americans could give Obama the second chance while he fix the economy, getting it out of recession occasioned by the George Bush wars.
    Obama will not wage war while Romney could go to war unilaterally like Bush did.
    The whole world is waiting. Americans think and vote wisely. We want a president like Bill Clinton who would always mediate in times of crisis instead of waging war.

    Americans decide, the whole world awaits you.
    The choice is America’s, but remember the strategic position America occupies in the world. The impact is on all us.

  11. Melly Feng says:

    Mr Obama should and must win the election. He is what a real leader is.

  12. KayC says:

    I am 60 years old, and the first time I voted for a presidential candidate was for George McGovern. I am the daughter of a depression era WWII Veteran who called himself a ‘die hard democrat.’ My Dad passed 8 years ago, and now I know why. Seeing what this president has reduced our country to would kill him. During Obama’s term, my food bill has doubled, and so has the price of gas. I know too many people who cannot find a job that even pays the rent. Democrats AND Republicans are AMERICANS, and BOTH deserve Respect! Some of you are so blatently uneducated in current affairs it is painful to read your words. WAKE UP! Start using your time to read, and stop wasting it on blogging. The ONLY important privilege of our time is the Vote. Privacy is a thing of the past, but the U.S. is still a free democracy, and many of my ancestors put their lives on the line to protect it. Have you?? Be a responsible adult, instead of a mouthy youth. Take your vote seriously, think for YOURSELF, and then go vote.

  13. Manny says:

    Mitt looks similar to Bush. Putting more expenditure on military is like engaging the country back to the days of Bush. More money in military equals Americans down economy…

  14. Felix says:

    The world is experiencing crisis in unprecedental dimension, so we don’t need a war-hungry President but a matured , peace disposed one.
    Americans don’t disappoint us , vote wisely, elect Obama for peace to reign in the world.

  15. Felix says:

    Any economic gains or recovery could be squandered in times of war.
    Therefore, it’s better to vote for that candidate that is peace-disposed rather than war inclined.Although am not an American, Obama seems matured, stable, diplomatic,act in the interest of majority and civil or civilian president.
    Romney will function better as Chief of Army Staff -military. He will like to if elected flaunt to the rest of the world America’s military might.
    Let vote for world peace.

  16. LuciaL says:

    Yayyy, well done America. This is from a New Zealander on the other side of the world. I was not able to vote, but I prayed and waited with nervous and baited breath for the outcome, as your polls had the two candidates neck to neck. Yet it was over unexpectedly sooner than I had anticipated. You didn’t just vote for America, you voted on behalf of the whole world and you made the right choice. I had a good day yesterday. Bless you all and Bless the USA.

  17. Felix says:

    Americans hurray!!! You did not disappoint us. Your election was superb.A good example to the rest of the world. It was an open one.

    No litigation , no election tribunal to resolve crisis due to electoral fraud.

    It was victory for democracy. No victor , no vanquished.

    Keep the flag flying!

    Welove you.

  18. Felix says:

    The President,
    You seems to be a man of destiny considering your origin or extraction, winning US presidency twice.

    Now the election is over, settle down to work.
    Iniate policies that would revive the economy, create jobs, reduce deficit , engage in real production to grow the economy,and bring Americans together irrespective of political leaning.

    The President avoid distraction, remain focus, keep your promises to the Americans who chose you, consolidate on what you have done.

    Leave a legacy behind.
    My advice, President , if you serve the Americans well and remain responsive to their yearnings, you will be preparing your party to capture the presidency come 2016.

    Keep your electionary promises.

Jim Malone

Jim Malone

After a stint in the Peace Corps in Swaziland, Jim joined VOA in 1983 as a reporter and anchor on English broadcasts to Africa.  He served as East Africa correspondent, then covered Congress in the early 1990’s.   Since 1995, Jim has served as VOA national correspondent responsible for coverage of U.S. politics, elections, the Supreme Court and Justice Department.  Jim has been involved in VOA’s election coverage since the 1984 presidential campaign and has co-anchored live VOA broadcasts of numerous national political conventions, candidate debates and election night coverage.


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