After a lackluster performance in his first debate, President Obama came out swinging on Tuesday night. Obama repeatedly took aim at Republican challenger Mitt Romney in a fiery townhall-style debate.
Unlike the first faceoff between the two candidates, there's no agreement from our experts post-debate as to who came out on top. But there is a consensus that Obama upped his game at a moment when his campaign was clearly on the ropes.
One of the testiest exchanges in the debate came early in the night, during a question on domestic energy. Romney pressed President Obama on cuts to fossil fuel development, and the president was more than willing to take up some of his opponent's time responding. The ensuing back-and-forth surely fired up the bases of both parties. Less clear is how much headway the candidates made on Tuesday with undecideds.
Some consultant reactions C&E collected post debate:
Tyler Harber, Republican consultant; founder of Harcom Strategies
"Obama needed to have a breakthrough moment in this debate to score a win. This simply did not happen. Romney repeatedly dominated the president, even forcing Obama to stop an attempt to rebut the Governor and simply sit down. This weak response by the President is one of the most memorable moments of this second debate.
Governor Romney performed as well as he did in the first debate. Despite an improvement by the president, Obama was incapable of getting into a groove that would allow him to connect with voters watching at home. In the end, undecided voters leaning toward Romney were reassured that Romney is not the extremist that Obama wants them to think he is, while Obama failed to stop Romney’s upward momentum.
There is little doubt that Obama improved from the last debate; however, he just couldn’t catch fire against a more aggressive Romney."
Craig Varoga, Democratic strategist; founder of Patriot Majority
"Democrats will feel more energized. Romney flubbed it on Libya and women's issues. Expect to hear a lot more about Romney's flip flopping over the next 21 days. The coin of the realm remains undecided voters in swing states."
Gary Genard, founder and president of Public Speaking International
"This debate was refreshingly combative. It was also much more even in terms of the two performances. Since debates are, after all, contests, I should remark up front: a second Romney win. Not as clear a victory as last time, but a win nonetheless.
Both candidates did very well in terms of body language. They moved freely, gestured naturally, included helpful facial expressions, and used vocal expressiveness. Romney had the slight edge in terms of pitch inflection, but it wasn't a marked difference. Obama's best line of the night came when he was asked by Romney if he had checked his pension lately: 'No, it's not as big as yours.' Romney's best line of the night: 'We don't have to live like this.'"
Bill Hillsman, Ad maker who has created spots for the likes of Jesse Ventura and Ned Lamont; president of North Woods Advertising
"Obama did what he needed to do and was 100 percent better and more engaged than the last debate. But Romney did very, very well, especially in prosecuting his case vs. Obama's record and the lack of economic progress over the last four years. Looking at this debate in isolation, I'd call it a draw. I don't think body language and the strutting around the stage was a big deal. They both gave and got on that. It's just a function of this town hall debate format, which I think sucks.
Here's why this debate was potentially problematical for Romney: He positions himself as a hard-headed business guy, and that image is buttressed when he throws around numbers and facts and statistics. That's an attractive image for independent and persuadable voters, but credibility is particularly important to these voters. So when you get undercut on some of those numbers and facts and statistics, it can be very damaging to your positioning.
Romney's consistent response to calls for specifics about whether he can pay for the tax cuts and balanced budget he wants is always "Of course it adds up." Independents and persuadable voters are getting pretty tired of this act. If it adds up, then show us how it adds up, Mr. Numbers Guy."
Julian Mulvey, Democratic media strategist; partner at Devine Mulvey
"The country witnessed a real prize fight tonight and the president came roaring back. It was one of the toughest presidential debates in recent memory and the president put Gov. Romney on the back foot on issue after issue from Libya, to taxes, to pay equity. President wins tonight with undecideds, and covered huge ground to rebound from the first debate."
Shane D'Aprile contributed.Follow @DaveNyczepir