If you listened hard during Tuesday's debate, you might have caught a faint cheer from Democrats across the country as President Obama got off the ropes and threw himself wholeheartedly into the ring against contender Mitt Romney.
While it was a debate of two people, all eyes were focused on the president, wondering if he could bring enough fire and passion to inspire undecideds in battleground states and reignite a base sorely disappointed by a lackluster, barely-there performance in Round One.
There is no doubt that President Obama came through -- leaving some asking, 'Who is this guy and where was he two weeks ago?' -- but did he deliver a knockout?
That's to be determined.
Based on early post-debate polling, the president looks like he's re-emerged. We'll find out just how much ground he made up, though, when the polls release their findings over the next few days.
Mitt Romney proved more than capable of holding his ground Tuesday night -- shining with a crisp answer on his differences in leadership from President George W. Bush. He worked hard to repair the damage from his '47 percent' remark -- doing the best he could while emphasizing himself as an accessible man of the people, with the interests of 100 percent of Americans at heart.
In testy exchanges with the president, Romney pressed hard to get specifics -- for example, on domestic oil production -- and used statistics effectively to paint the president as ineffective on delivering relief to the middle class and improving job numbers.
But when Romney had the chance to draw blood on the Libya embassy attack, he faltered. In contrast, President Obama was able to turn an issue of vulnerability into a relatively strong answer, taking responsibility with a "buck stops here" answer. Good tactic: It worked pretty well for Harry Truman.
For the president, sweet spots included women's issues and immigration. He smartly recast women's issues -- like equal pay and access to contraception -- as broader family and economic concerns. President Obama also delivered some tough jabs to Romney, dinging him on outsourcing jobs and delivering the night's best quip: "My pension's not as big as yours, so it doesn't take as long [to look at]." In contrast, Twitter and Facebook blew up immediately with Romney's "binders full of women."
At the end of the night, members of both parties had solid reasons to feel good about their candidate's performance. But neither performance was enough to sway a significant number of undecideds -- and that puts enormous pressure on both Obama and Romney to bring home a definitive win next Monday.
As Bo Schembechler, the legendary University of Michigan football coach, used to say, epic battles are won on the ground -- and the clock is ticking.
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