Neither candidate scored the clear victory Tuesday night that Mitt Romney racked up in the first presidential debate 13 days ago. But this is life. And in life, there are winners and losers:
President Obama: It was a near certainty that he would improve on his mystifyingly bad performance in Denver. And he did. But he did more than that. After coming out a little too hot — Obama was on the wrong side of the passionate/angry divide — the president moderated his tone to the sober yet forceful persona that he needed to project in this debate.
Debates are about moments, and Obama had three: his line about how his pension wasn't as big as Romney's; winning, against all odds, the scrap about the Benghazi attack (with an assist from moderator Candy Crowley); and his strong close in which he used Romney's "47 percent" comments as a cudgel.
Obama's performance wasn't flawless, and he didn't score a clean win as Romney did in the first debate. But he was the better performer this time around.
The questions: Town-hall formats tend to be hit or miss. When regular people get to ask the questions — unedited by that darn mainstream media — you either get blunt queries that force the candidates to think or banal generalities that don't. With a few notable exceptions — gas prices, gun control and why are you so misunderstood — the questions on Libya, whether we are better off than we were four years ago and how Romney differs from George W. Bush were pointed and interesting.
There weren't enough of them, but that was a function of the two candidates talking too much. And although Romney seemed to get the tougher questions, but complaining about the rules is a loser's game. (More on that below.)