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Romney v. Obama 2: feisty, toe-to-toe, and inconclusive

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 16 2012 10:38 p.m. MDT

President Barack Obama greets Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the start of the second presidential debate at Hofstra University, Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012, in Hempstead, N.Y. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Associated Press

Mitt Romney played to run out the clock. Sensing that momentum was on his side, Romney’s task was to reassure skeptical viewers — especially women — that he was not a warmonger. Obama played like the one anxious to score, jabbing Romney repeatedly all night long, rarely speaking without sending a shot across the table.

“For the most part, the president’s tone fit the gravity of the issues under discussion,” wrote Michelle Cottle at the Daily Beast. “But even when he flirted with humor, it was angry humor. “The 1980s are calling, asking for their foreign policy back.” “You say we have fewer ships than 1916. We also have fewer horses and bayonets.” Snap.”

The paradox was captured by Howard Kurtz at the Daily Beast, who headlined, “Obama slams A Passive Mitt Romney as Reckless on Foreign Policy.”

“This was not the Mitt Romney of the first or second debate,” Kurtz wrote, “Sounding like a political scientist at times, he had clearly made a calculation that playing it safe and demonstrating world knowledge were sufficient in a race in which many polls are trending his way. He steered clear of anything that might be interpreted as an aggressive call to action.”

“The President is determined to pick a fight tonight,” Tweeted NBC’s David Gregroy, “Romney determined to avoid it. What does that say about where each camp sees the race?”

The results, based on flash polls, were somewhat mixed with a tilt to Romney on points, but serious doubts about whether anything here would change the trajectory of the campaign.

CNN’s flash poll gave the nod to Obama, 48 percent to 40. But as David Gergen observed on CNN, to focus on the “winner” in the polls is off point. “I think Romney passed the commander-in-chief test, and people would be fairly comfortable with him in the oval office.”

The CNN poll rather proved Gergen’s point: Can the candidate handle the job of commander in chief? 63 percent said yes to Obama, and 60 percent yes to Romney. Given that Obama already holds the office, this might seem a vindication of Romney’s caution.

“Who did the debate make you more likely to vote for?” CNN asked. Obama 24 percent, Romney 25, and neither 50.

A Public Policy Polling survey after the debate summed up its likely minimal effects. 37 percent were more likely to vote for Obama after the debate, 31 percent less likely. 38 were more likely to vote for Romney, 35 percent less likely.

CNN commentator Van Jones may have offered definitive proof that Intrade, the popular gambling site where people put real money on future events, is not exactly a hot spot for political wisdom. Intrade odds, Jones said, spiked to 80 percent for Obama reelection ten minutes before the debate ended.

A bit more grounded, conservative New York Times columnist Ross Douthat tweeted, “I expect the snap polls to give a clear edge to Obama, and for Romney's polling to suffer not all.”

NBC’s Chuck Todd tweeted, “Romney seemed so focus on being "acceptable" that he didn't see the need to either respond to criticism or draw many distinctions. Too safe?

One of the few unequivocal voices calling it a Romney win was Charles Krauthammer at Fox News: “I think it's unequivocal: Romney won, not just tactically but strategically.”

Some issues that never came up: The EU credit crisis and the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis. According to one count, Israel was mentioned 22 times, Japan, the EU, and India not at all.

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