Last night’s presidential debate saw Barack Obama turn the tables on Republican candidate Mitt Romney, following the latter’s spirited performance a fortnight ago. Declaring that he’d been “too polite” during their first debate, Obama pulled out all the stops yesterday at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.
During discussions about issues ranging from the auto industry bailout and the recent attack in Libya to tax policy, Obama appeared thoroughly re-charged throughout; interrupting, scolding and even squaring off face-to-face with Romney in the middle of the stage.
While Romney has crept ahead of Obama in Stateside opinion polls over the past two weeks, campaign scholars said that last night’s performance should be enough to halt the President’s decline. Indeed, David Lanoue, a political science professor at Georgia’s Columbus State University was quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle as saying: "Had this Barack Obama shown up two weeks ago, he might still be leading in the polls."
The Chronicle also reported the fact that “a post-debate poll conducted by CNN showed that viewers of the debate believed, by 46 percent to 39 percent, that Obama had won,” and noted that “supporters of the president were elated at his performance.”
Describing the candidates’ encounter as “heated,” the Chicago Tribune also remarked on the “newly energetic and aggressive” Obama’s performance, which saw him “attacking Mitt Romney’s business record, his positions on issues and his truthfulness.”
Romney, on the other hand, was described in the Tribune as having been “on the defensive,” and the paper noted that the Republican “repeatedly made efforts to return the debate to his strongest point — Obama’s economic record.”
However the San Jose Mercury News disagreed with that assessment of the Republican, saying: “Romney gave as good as he got.”
The paper said that he had “pushed back hard” against Obama and marvelled at the displays of passion from both men, saying: “Their clashes crackled with energy and tension, and the crowd watched raptly as the two sparred while struggling to appear calm and affable before a national television audience.”
The Chicago Sun-Times also opined that neither man could be accused of lacking vigour during the debate, describing Obama as “feisty” and Romney as being “just-as-fired-up,” before noting that throughout the debate Obama “worked to highlight that he did achieve what he said he would do: end two wars, reform health care and go after terror threats.”
“Though Obama's decision to engage his rival probably denied Romney a second consecutive debate win,” said the Los Angeles Times, “the Republican stood his ground.”
However, the paper also drew attention to a series of apparent U-turns made by Romney during the debate, saying he “appeared to contradict himself when he stated that all women should have access to contraception, though he supported an amendment in Congress that would allow employers to deny birth-control coverage to their workers.
“He refused to acknowledge that he had changed his position on restricting assault weapons and skirted a question about the hard-line stance he took during the GOP primaries on immigration, an issue the candidates debated for the first time Tuesday night."
On the other hand, The Washington Post accused Obama of using “many of his questions as pivot points to paint Romney as extreme on a wide range of social issues — particularly ones that appeal to the female vote, which is crucial to the president’s prospects.” It also reported that: “Romney said the president and his campaign were trying to characterize him ‘as someone who’s very different than who I am.’”
The Wall Street Journal cast doubt on whether either man had really "won" last night’s debate and said that Obama and Romney’s aggressive displays would be a turn-off for the electorate.
“While the first debate was a clear win for Mr. Romney, the second was far more mixed,” the paper noted, before giving prominence to comments from Matthew Latimer, a former speech-writer for George W Bush, who said: "Voters always say they want candidates who don't squabble. And there was a lot of squabbling."
Assessing the situation, the New York Times said much the same thing, noting that: “the risk, of course, was that an acerbic confrontation could turn off the very swing voters [Obama] covets.”
Whether last night's "town hall" will ultimately prove to have soured the opinions of American voters remains to be seen, but the Times recognised that the President was faced with a number of difficult decisions before taking the stage last night.
It said: “For days leading up to Tuesday night’s encounter, Mr. Obama huddled in a Virginia resort with advisers to practice a more aggressive approach without appearing somehow inauthentic or crossing over a line of presidential dignity.
“It was a line he would stride up to repeatedly over the course of more than 90 minutes, and some will argue that he slipped over it at times.
“Aides and friends have long said he is a clutch player on the basketball court, the kind who turns in listless performances during practice but raises his level when the game is on the line.
“The game was on the line Tuesday night, and he scored some points. But the final buzzer is still 20 days away.”
You can watch the whole of last night’s debate below, if you'd like to make up your own mind about the outcome:
The candidates’ next debate will take place on Monday 22 October at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. For now though, why not cast a vote in our poll and have your say on who you thought emerged as last night’s victor?