A few impressions from the second presidential debate:
Obama did much better. He actually took this one seriously. This was to be expected. Obama is very competitive and hates to lose. Even if he no longer really desires being president he does not want to lose two debates in a row to someone he despises.
Obama's main lessons from Biden's performance last week were 1) interrupt often and 2) a Democrat can get away with telling bald face lies as long as he does it confidently.
The format was designed to be as favorable as possible to Obama. The questions sounded as if they were written by the Obama campaign. The moderator allowed Obama more time, interrupted Romney more than once, and only asked for follow-up from Romney.
When asked about Libya, Obama ran as fast and as far from the question as he could. When Romney tried to point out that the Obama administration spent most of two weeks blaming the killings on a video instead of admitting that they were a terrorist attack, the moderator overstepped all bounds of moderation by quibbling over the term "terrorism". Later in the exchange she admitted that Romney was essentially correct.
The audience which was supposed to be silent and uncommitted broke out in applause after Obama asked the moderator to "say that again louder" that he had used the word "terror" on September 12.
Obama projected righteous anger at the suggestion that he and his staff played politics over the Libyan slayings. Romney did not pursue this but how else to explain two weeks of misinformation? An old debater's trick is to act offended if your opponent scores a hit.
The only real body blow landed by either candidate was when Romney responded to Obama's list of accomplishments. Romney listed Obama's failures when compared to Obama's own promises and to the Reagan recovery. He rightly pointed out that under Reagan the economy created twice as many jobs in the same period and that Obama's vaunted five million jobs created barely made up for the five million jobs lost.
So where does that leave us. I doubt that either candidate convinced many voters to change their mind. Obama probably stopped the bleeding induced from his first debate but he needed a clear win to reverse the damage and he did not get it.
The debate may help Romney regardless of his performance. For the past several weeks, Romney has done best when he is actually seen by the electorate but a sitting president has more opportunities for exposure than a challenger. It was assumed that Obama got a lasting bounce from his convention because he remained high in the polls until the first debate. But, right around the time that the embassy attacks happened. Tragedies give presidents a chance to gain stature and Obama's Rose Garden statement probably gave him a second bounce just as the one from the convention was dying down. Accordingly, sharing the same stage as Obama helps Romney. It doesn't hurt that he seemed marginally more mature.
Obama partisans have already labeled the debate a win for the President but that is based on a combination of wishful thinking and Obama not stumbling.