1. The debate moderator, Martha Raddatz, was a big improvement over Jim Lehrer, who moderated last week's debate. She maintained control of the debate while also allowing the candidates to scuffle a little. Her questions covered a wide range of important issues and she held the candidates to actually answering her questions.
2. The format may have added to the high quality of this debate. Having the candidates sit at a table rather than stand behind podiums created a more intimate feeling and conversational tone (the debate last week felt more like two speeches). The format also encouraged the lively personal exchanges and the candidates' proximity to the moderator likely allowed her to maintain better control over the debate. (Jim Lehrer was so far from the candidates that it contributed to his irrelevance during the debate.)
3. Both candidates showed up ready to play ball! This was an energetic, feisty, and quality debate. Both men are capable, informed, and eager public servants who laid out two strong and very different visions for the nation. Although Paul Ryan is a young man without much experience on the national stage, he did well and showed that he belongs in national politics.
4. After being dismissed during the run-up to this debate as a gaffe-machine who would likely lose the debate (CNN polls revealed that the public expected Ryan to win by a margin of 55%-39%), Joe Biden gave a command performance and won the debate. "Scranton Joe" connected with average folks and, most importantly, the middle class through his passionate and clear answers.
5. The big question, of course, is did this debate make a difference? The answer is: Yes, a little. The game is even at 1-and-1 going into the second half. Romney won last week's debate but Biden won this week's debate. While no one delivered a knock-out blow, had Biden lost the debate or given a lethargic performance it would have helped Mitt Romney close the gap in the polls.
After watching this debate, I can't help but to think: Who are the folks who are still undecided?! After two years of campaigning, well over a billion dollars in spending, countless speeches, and two debates, voters have two dramatically different choices.
Robert Watson, Ph.D. is the author or editor of 34 books on American politics and history, and serves as Professor and Coordinator of American Studies at Lynn University, site of the final presidential debate