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Opinion: In all Four Critical Ways, Obama Won the Town Hall Debate

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US President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential nominee Mitt Romney debate on October 16, 2012 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

The second Presidential debate was a very animated event. The wireless mike walk around format allowed both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama to get close to voters as they asked questions and also got into each other’s space and face. Town Hall meetings are not supposed to be “mano a mano” but the candidates ignored the format – thank God. This was more dynamic.

I won’t recap blow by blow because you saw it or can read the narrative in many great post-debate columns. To me there were several important benchmarks I needed answered with just weeks before Election Day.

First of all President Obama needed to correct his dispirited performance in the first debate. He accomplished that and went beyond with expressive body language, energy, and some very testonsteroney push back in several exchanges with Mitt Romney. Mission accomplished.

Second, we were all carefully assessing Mitt Romney’s encore to judge it against his first debate performance. I concluded that he may have gone a little over the top. He was on the verge of rude and moderator Candy Crowley had a hard time keeping him under control. But, he did hold his own and showed he is determined and take charge – he is the CEO!

Third, did this influence undecided voters? As the event progressed I became more and more convinced that “independent” voters are yearning for answers. I know independent voters. Independent voters are friends (and students) of mine. This debate was exactly what undecided voters do NOT like – a heightened example of partisanship, of two people who clearly don’t like each other bickering, a confusion of issues with answers that probably made no sense to independents.

Fourth, we all wanted to assess if the debate helped or hurt each of the candidates with their own base and supporters. Democrats were able to cheer on a feisty Obama who seemed to really believe in his policies and in their causes (women’s rights, green energy, fairer taxes, positive government as an engine for the economy.) Obama injected new enthusiasm into his supporters. It will probably help boost his turnout.

For Republicans, Romney scored a direct hit. He did not let Obama off the hook on Benghazi. But when he tried to slam Obama on women’s pay equity –  using the phrase “Women in a Binder” became the “killing Big Bird” of the evening. This has exploded into an avalanche of Internet memes.

The verdict was that Obama “won” the overall debate but we should note that Mitt Romney scored higher in the CNN poll on some specific issues such as taxes.

Here are some numbers from the CBS News poll that was conducted online during the date via “probability-based panel” designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 525 uncommitted voters who had agreed to watch the debate. 

“Moments following the debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., 37 percent of voters polled said the president won, 30 percent awarded the victory to Romney, and 33 percent called it a tie... As for who would do a better job of handling the economy, the president made some headway on closing that gap. Before the debate, 71 percent said they believed Romney would, while only 27 percent said they thought Obama would; after the debate, 34 percent said the president would better handle the economy, with 65 percent saying Romney would."

Obama would also be more likely to help the middle class, according to 56 percent of voters after the debate, compared with 43 percent who said that about Romney.

Clearly debate three will be critically interesting (notice I did not say important). If things continue in the direction they are now moving Barack Obama may have articles of impeachment launched at him by the Republicans in the House for his failure to call the Benghazi, Libya disaster a “terrorist attack.” After all, they impeached Clinton for not having sex with Monica Lewinsky in the White House.