Both candidates put in strong performances on Tuesday, but in my opinion, Obama emerged a slight victor, because he did what he needed to do and quite frankly the stakes were higher for him (another poor or even mediocre debate performance could have doomed his re-election prospects).
Obama succeeded in finding a compelling narrative for his candidacy (or at least against Mitt Romney's) that was notably absent from his last debate performance.
1. He reminded voter's that he accomplished many of the things they elected him to do. When asked by a voter, "What have you done or accomplished to earn my vote in 2012?" he gave the most concise, punchy defense of his first term record I've heard to date:
Four years ago I told the American people and I told you I would cut taxes for middle-class families, and I did. I told you I'd cut taxes for small businesses, and I have. I said that I'd end the war in Iraq, and I did. I said we'd refocus attention on those who actually attacked us on 9/11, and we have gone after al-Qaida's leadership like never before, and Osama bin Laden is dead. I said that we would put in place health care reform to make sure that insurance companies can't jerk you around, and if you don't have health insurance, that you'd have a chance to get affordable insurance, and I have. I committed that I would rein in the excesses of Wall Street, and we passed the toughest Wall Street reforms since the 1930s.
2. He portrayed Mitt Romney as an untrustworthy flip-flop, and presented himself as a consistent alternative.
Governor, when you were governor of Massachusetts, you stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, this plant kills, and took great pride in shutting it down. And now suddenly you're a big champion of coal.
Governor Romney just said that...he wants to help those young [immigrants]. But during the Republican primary, he said, I will veto the DREAM Act that would allow these young people to have access.
I think Governor Romney was for an assault weapons ban before he was against it. And he said that the reason he changed his mind was in part because he was seeking the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.
So what I've tried to do is be consistent.
3. He successfully tied Mitt Romney to an unpopular Congress.
If we're serious about reducing the deficit...then in addition to some tough spending cuts, we've also got to make sure that the wealthy do a little bit more. So what I've said is your first $250,000 worth of income, no change. And that means 98 percent of American families, 97 percent of small businesses, they will not see a tax increase. I'm ready to sign that bill right now. The only reason it's not happening is because Governor Romney's allies in Congress have held the 98 percent hostage because they want tax breaks for the top 2 percent.
4. Finally, he was far more concise in his answers than he was in the last debate and did not lose his temper the way Joe Biden did in the Vice Presidential debate.
Obama does not, however, get a perfect score. He did not go as far as he needed to in describing his agenda for a second term. Again, he mentioned immigration reform, deficit reduction and tax cuts for the manufacturing sector as priorities, but he did not get into the specifics of his plans. Hopefully he will provide these specifics before November 6, and sooner rather than later. Failure to do so would be a huge disservice to American voters. That said, for the time being, he accomplished what he needed to in order to "stop the bleeding."
Mitt Romney got in his zingers as well. His strongest moments were when he was attacking Obama on his economic record.
What's happened over the last four years has been very, very hard for America's young people. I want you to be able to get a job. I know what it takes to get this economy going. With half of college kids graduating this year without...a job and without a college-level job, that's just unacceptable. And likewise, you got more and more debt on your back...I'm going to change that. I know what it takes to create good jobs again. I know what it takes to make sure that you have the kind of opportunity you deserve.
It will be interesting to see how both candidates handle questions in next week's foreign policy debate, considering the fact that domestic issues will most likely be the most pressing concerns on most voters' minds when they head to the polls in November.