10/17/2012 08:12 pm ET Updated Dec 17, 2012

Obama Takes Debate 2: So What Happens Next?

If President Barack Obama had performed in the Denver debate as he did last night in Long Island, this election would already be over. But it's not, so what happens next?

Well, three fundamental things at the very least, two of them good for Obama, the third not good in the least. A new survey indicates that unemployment is continuing to head down and Obama gets the deeply geopolitically challenged Romney -- who couldn't even handle a trip to London on Olympics eve without an international incident -- in a final debate on foreign policy. But Romney's super PAC allies are unleashing an unprecedented avalanche of advertising. More on these in a moment.

One of the great mysteries of this campaign is what happened to Obama in Denver. My suspicion is that he resented debating Mitt Romney, thinking little of him, preferring instead to stick to the distracting work of being president rather than practice debate ping-pong. At the time, Obama was moving aircraft carrier strike groups into the South and East China Seas countering Chinese moves (here is my archive on the geopolitical pivot), dealing with the aftermath of the Benghazi disaster, and working to tamp down the violent anti-American protests that erupted across the Islamic world after the infamous Innocence of Muslims video.

As to this debate, I agree with my old friend Steve Schmidt, the John McCain and Arnold Schwarzenegger campaign director, who says that Obama scored heavily at the end by driving home Romney's infamous fundraising comments about on 47% of Americans being lazy layabouts reliant on socialism. And that Obama scored again on the Benghazi disaster by correctly pointing out that he had called the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans an act of terrorism and by essentially shaming Romney for implying that Obama was simply playing politics around the death of an ambassador he'd sent in harm's way with a mission beginning last year in then war-torn Libya.

Romney blew the response to Benghazi in near real time, as I wrote here on September 19th in "How Romney Should Have Attacked Obama: Anatomy of A Geopolitical Crisis," when he attacked foolishly Obama for supposedly sympathizing with the people who attacked the US embassy in Cairo and US mission in Benghazi.

And he blew it again last night, operating live on global TV.

Prior to the debate, on my New West Notes blog, I asked whether the Ambien-fed Barack Obama of Denver would show up on Long Island or the amphetamine-fueled Joe Biden of last week? Or something in between?

Definitely something in between, though far speedier, as it were, than the Denver version.

It was hard for me to believe that Obama would again be any less than he was in 2008, when he was certainly good enough for John McCain and Hillary Clinton. And that that would make him more than good enough for Mitt Romney.

That proved to be the case, as Obama won the debate with an impressive performance. Snap polls show it, and my gut made it clear from the get-go.

Romney wasn't bad, but he was not as good as in the first debate.

Actually, Romney seemed to have let his clippings get to his head, imagining that he has somehow morphed into a fellow wearing a cape with an "S" on his chest.

He let Obama get to him early on with his depiction of Romney as a latter day sort of financialized robber baron. He endlessly asserted his positioning as a champion of job creation and saving the middle class without discussing policies that would do that. Aside from lowering the capital gains tax, a notable non sequitur.

His most detailed domestic policy was his championing of the old fossil fuel economy, especially coal.

And he thoroughly muffed his attack on Obama on the Benghazi disaster, again!

For his part, Obama was especially impressive on Benghazi, though Romney made it relatively easy, saying that while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has taken responsibility for diplomatic security, it is his responsibility as he appoints the ambassadors and sends them out around the world, and feels deeply the loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens.

"We are going to hunt them down," said Obama of the perpetrators of Benghazi, just as others have been hunted down throughout his administration. Including, of course, Osama bin Laden, a mission that Romney called unnecesssary before the Al Qaeda leader was taken down by Navy SEALs.

Romney also came off a bit oddly at times, challenging moderator Candy Crowley rather petulantly and aggressively using his bulk on one or two occasions to begin to challenge Obama.

And then there was his claim, as a belated show of bona fides for female voters despite his opposition to the equal pay act, that, realizing that he was appointing almost all men as governor, he instructed his staff to give him "binders full of women" whom he might appoint.

I didn't know women came in binders. Nor that appointing women was such an obvious afterthought for him and his team that he had to order them up in such a way.

So what's next?

* The unemployment rate is heading down again.

A new Gallup Poll survey has more good news on unemployment.

The US unemployment rate, which in September dropped to 7.8%, best since Obama took over as president in the midst of the great global recession, seems to be dropping again in October.

The Gallup Poll survey, which had the rate going below 8% for the first time in nearly four years just before the official numbers came out, now has the unemployment rate down to 7.3% in mid-October.

That's the lowest it's been since Gallup started tracking unemployment nearly three years ago.

So much for the far right theme that the numbers were cooked when the official rate dropped below 8%. Of course, those were the same folks who claimed there was no recession in 2008. And Gallup is a poll that, in my observation, consistently has an extra edge for a Republican candidate.

* Obama gets to bring his depth of knowledge to bear over Romney in the final debate, which is all about foreign policy.

That's on October 22nd, at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.

As I wrote here last week, while Obama faces huge challenges in the real world, Romney just keeps whiffing on geopolitics.

The man has spent most of the past seven years running for president, but he still can't get beyond a few rote sentences when it comes to what he thinks on the sophisticated issues involved. Frankly, he generally doesn't know what he's talking about.

Not that Obama is perfection, to be sure. He's made plenty of mistakes, especially in Afghanistan. Where, naturally, Romney would make things worse.

But before bungling his latest Benghazi attack in the Long Island debate, there were at least four other major whiffs as Romney tried and tried again to demonstrate that he can be the leader of the US in a complex and challenging world. His ballyhooed speech a week ago Monday at the Virginia Military Institute on his big new geopolitical vision ended like his July Veterans of Foreign Wars speech in Reno, Nevada, his July-August international tour, and his September attack on Obama for supposedly sympathizing with those who stormed US missions in Cairo and Benghazi. Not at all well.

But, while Obama will be in his wheelhouse, at least relatively speaking, in the next debate, there is something happening which is beyond his control.

* Despite Obama and the coordinating Democratic campaign organization having raised nearly a billion dollars, Obama is in some danger of being overrun by massive pro-Romney super PAC spending. All of it unregulated, in unlimited amounts, and much of it secret.

Now that the somnambulant debater of Denver has awakened, at last and not a moment too soon, if Obama supporters want something else to worry about, the efforts of Karl Rove and company, of the billionaires who want a Wall Street engineer in the Oval Office, of the still amazingly flush greenhouse deniers and advocates of the old energy economy of fossil fuels forever, are definitely that.

You can check things during the day on my site, New West Notes ...

William Bradley Huffington Post Archive