Romney scored major substantive hits on several occasions, including repeated hits on Medicare, tying the $716 billion Medicare trust fund shift to Obamacare around the president's neck.
Another major hit occurred when Romney turned a minor dispute over education funding into a direct slam on failed "green investments." He repeatedly hit the $90 billion invested in companies like Solyndra, and got there by agreeing with Obama that choices reflect priorities, and that education deserved the funding more than crony capitalists.
Obama struggled with "ums" and "ers" throughout the night, and once even began a comment with "er yeh eh." He appears to have tried to counter this tic with an occasional "and" or just a blank pause, but it was clear that he had to stop and think more than Romney.
Obama appeared to have a limited number of talking points, often repeated them, and seemed to rely on filler in and around them. He wore a blue tie that perfectly matched the background and gave the strange appearance of a tie-shaped hole in his chest. He did not look comfortable all night.
In advance of the debate, Michael Knox Beran suggested applying Samuel Johnson's "five-minute rule."
"Johnson said that you could not stand beside Edmund Burke for five minutes while taking shelter from the rain without concluding that you were in the presence of an extraordinary man," Beran wrote. "In the same way, you can’t watch two men talk in the glare of klieg lights for 90 minutes without sensing that one of them is in some important way better than the other."
Beran made no predictions about which candidate would end up in that role, but after Wednesday night, Romney's offer to share his umbrella certainly seems much more plausible than it did Wednesday morning.
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