General Audience Scores Slight Second Debate Win for Obama

October 16, 2012 11:15 PM
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But undecided voters more upbeat about Romney than Obama's performance

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.

Snap polls by various outlets scored a slight victory for a recharged President Barack Obama against his GOP presidential challenger Mitt Romney, but in a televised segment asking undecided voters who won the debate, it was a different verdict, with Romney getting the higher rating.

The candidates fielded a range of questions from undecided voters, selected by the Gallup Organization polling company, in a 90-minute debate at Hofstra University on New York's Long Island.

Obama supporters breathed a collective sigh of relief on seeing their candidate regain momentum, after his lethargic performance in the first one on Oct. 3. Romney performed as well as he did in the first debate. The result, to many, was a draw.

Some observers called the second debate more a squabble than a debate, but there was a lot of substance during the 90-minute affair.

But unlike the first debate, this one will not likely alter the dynamic of the race. It did, however, clearly show the two men dislike each other on multiple fronts.

Romney's main argument against the president: The country can't afford four more years under Obama. "If you were to elect President Obama, you know what you're going to get — you're going to get a repeat of the last four years," he said. "The middle class is getting crushed under the policies of a president who has not understood what it takes to get the economy working again." He later added, "The president has tried, but his policies haven't worked."

Romney zeroed in on the impact on the middle class of Obama first term when he said, “The middle class is getting crushed under the policies of a president who has not understood what it takes to get the economy working again. He keeps saying, 'Look, I've created 5 million jobs.' That's after losing 5 million jobs. The entire record is such that the unemployment has not been reduced in this country. The unemployment, the number of people who are still looking for work, is still 23 million Americans. There are more people in poverty, one out of six people in poverty. How about food stamps? When he took office, 32 million people were on food stamps. Today, 47 million people are on food stamps. How about the growth of the economy? It's growing more slowly this year than last year, and more slowly last year than the year before. The president wants to do well. I understand. But the policies he's put in place from Obamacare to Dodd-Frank to his tax policies to his regulatory policies, these policies combined have not let this economy take off and grow like it could have.”

Obama focused in part on Romney's five-part plan for the US economy. “Gov. Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan; he has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules.” He later said, ““Gov. Romney was a very successful investor. If somebody came to you, governor, with a plan that said, ‘Here, I want to spend $7 or $8 trillion and we’re going to pay for it but we can’t tell you until maybe after the election how we’re going to do it.’ You wouldn’t have taken such a sketchy deal and neither would you, the American people.”

Obama zeroed in on Romney's positions on taxes, trade, energy and women's health issues in an attempt to cast him as more conservative than the GOP candidate has currently suggested.

Binders full of women.” Romney's recalled that as Massachusetts governor he asked women's groups for potential Cabinet candidates when he was governor of Massachusetts, and how he received "whole binders full of women.”

The biggest clash of the evening came on Libya. Obama for the first time accepted responsibility for the security lapses that contributed to the death of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans on Sept. 11 in Benghazi. He sought to turn the issue against Romney, accusing him of playing politics with a national-security crisis.

Obama said he called the Benghazi attack "an act of terror" during a statement in the Rose Garden the day after it occurred, challenging Republican accusations that the administration had been misleading when it described the attack as a demonstration sparked by an anti-Muslim video. "I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror," Romney said. "Get the transcript," the president replied.

The moderator got involved in the Libya topic. Moderator Candy Crowley, of CNN, “fact checked” Mitt Romney on Libya. Crowley corrected him, saying the president "'did in fact' call the attack an act of terror. "Can you say that a little louder?" Obama asked.

Background: Obama did make reference to the fact that "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation," but his Rose Garden comments that day also appeared to reference the video, when he said, "We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others." The administration changed its description of the attack, eventually describing it as a terror attack linked to al Qaeda sympathizers.

On energy policy, Romney accused Obama of cutting permits and licenses for domestic production on federal land and in federal waters. Obama said that his administration has increased domestic oil production. Romney countered, saying, "I don't think anyone really believes that you're a person who's going to be pushing for oil and gas and coal.”

The two candidates clashed over competing tax plans that made the topic very complex to most viewers.

Romney said one way he could offset his proposed 20 percent cut in income-tax rates would be to create a new cap on deductions, suggesting $25,000 as a possible limit, meaning that taxpayers would aggregate their mortgage interest, charitable contribution, and other deductions up to that point. He suggested the cap would be lower for upper-income Americans. Obama said it was impossible to find enough deductions to offset the rate cuts. He called the proposal a "sketchy plan" and said the numbers didn't add up. "Of course they add up," Romney replied, adding that his credentials in making the numbers work included his work balancing budgets as a governor and leader of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

On immigration, Obama noted Romney's support for a controversial Arizona law, parts of which were upheld by the Supreme Court earlier this year, that requires local law enforcement to check immigration status. Romney said he only supported the provision that would create a system for verifying the legal status of workers. Romney then said Obama did not follow through on a promise to enact a comprehensive reform proposal, and said he would do so if elected president.

Bottom line: The first debate was a clear win for Romney, the second was mixed. But watch polls of undecided voters, not the general public. That result could consolidate Romney's recent momentum, if not improve on it.

NOTE: This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.


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