Barack Obama did what he had to do

US President Barack Obama speaks during a town hall style debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York 16 October 2012 The town hall format changed the physicality of the debate with the candidates literally face-to-face

The absent warrior has returned. President Barack Obama redeemed himself.

This was a different format to the first debate, and it could have been a different president on stage. Undecided New York voters asked the questions and got strong, clear statements of policy from both candidates.

It is not so much that Mr Obama won, as that he didn't lose this time. He did what he had to, and perhaps some more. He was confident, combative and strong. Supporters will feel that he's back.

Mitt Romney's supporters won't be disappointed either. The Republican challenger put in a solid performance, nearly as good as last time, but he hadn't raised his game, and didn't have the stage to himself this time.

Many of the debating points we have heard scores of times before - Mr Romney managed to say that he knew how to run a business three times in one answer. But the body language was fascinating. These are two highly successful men, used to winning, used to getting the last word, used to a bit of respect.

At one stage early on, they almost squared off against each other, uncomfortably close, invading each other's personal space, hands raised in a gesture that says "stop - I'm talking".

After this awkward confrontation they backed off a little, mostly staying perched on their uncomfortable stool while the other man strolled and spoke.

But the passion repeatedly flared as they talked over each other.

The 11 questions asked by the audience ranged widely from gun control to Libya to immigration but the main focus was on the economy.

The most dramatic clash was over Libya, and the murder of the US ambassador and three other Americans. Mr Romney said Mr Obama flew off campaigning the next day.

Mr Obama accused Mr Romney of politicising the debate and said it was offensive to suggest he didn't care, and scoring political points on the issue was not the act of a potential commander-in-chief.

Then the most curious spat of the night as Mr Romney insisted Mr Obama hadn't called it terrorism, while Mr Obama and the moderator Candy Crowley insisted that he had.

In fact, Mr Obama had used the term "act of terror" in a loose way the day after the attack, while also suggesting it was the result of the anti-Islamic videos.

Republicans insist this is a fruitful area of attack, although it leaves me slightly mystified why they think this is so important.

The American media now accept the idea that this attack had nothing to do with the video.

Remember that everyone at the time, even reporters on the scene, thought it did. The distinction between an attack by al-Qaeda and an attack by enraged Islamic militants seems a little naïve and artificial. But there is no doubt the moderator came down on Mr Obama's side over the issue.

Conservatives may be annoyed by this debate - it appeared Mr Romney was cut off repeatedly when demanding the last word and some questions - on women's rights, immigration and gun control - could be said to favour Mr Obama, although the right feels passionately about those issues too.

All in all, this was a reminder of how rare that first debate was. It produced a clear winner and a clear loser. Because of that it mattered politically.

I suspect our judgment on this is more finely balanced, more like a theatre review. What Team Obama would have dreaded was anything that contributed to a narrative of decline and defeat.

This probably stopped the rot, will halt any panic. But the race is likely to remain unpredictably tight.

Mark Mardell Article written by Mark Mardell Mark Mardell North America editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    Sad to see neither man not answering questions directly.
    Gas prices! When are the American voters going to realize we are all paying more and neither man can change that with a flick of a switch. That goes for groceries too.
    Obama's coaches need to push him to burst Mitt's Mass. Governor claims.
    Please. Does the world we really need a President Mitt? Kids lose mitts!

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Does anyone actually believe that Romney, as President, who does not believe in trickle down government, and who does believe in outsourcing jobs, and profits, could create the conditions in the USA to create jobs that can compete with the conditions of jobs in China? This is the road to hell that he is proposing, unlimited carbon emissions, and worsening conditions and pay for the voters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    On the question of gun control, the honest answer would have been to say that they are both incapable of doing anything about it because of the lobbying power exercised by the pro-gun lobby. They should have admitted that this is an area of utter policy failure and that neither of them can do anything about it. To use a phrase, they should have stood their ground !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.


    Indeed, agreed. Moreover, I also stand hoping that Romney does not win the Americans elections. Yet I wonder on a side thought, when will the smaller socialist or communist or even the green parties ever get a chance to break the dual-party system to rise to finally solve that nation's problems?

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Commentators should step back for a moment. It may have appeared an even debate to middle aged oil drilling white men, but immigrants, low paid workers, women, the middle class, single mothers, and social progressives scored this for Obama.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    It's a sad state of affairs that Romney could still win this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Obama outperformed Romney who could only repeat his talking points over and over in a stereotyped manner with little logic. Yes, they did not receive advance information about the questions that would be asked; and that was Waterloo for Romney who could not process arguments quickly. My vote is Obama 60%, Romney 40%

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    Romney kept hacking the President for his failure to deliver on his promises, regardless of actual circumstances. Romney has his 5 point plan, and his Bain Capital experience as the basis for jobs, jobs, jobs, to compete with China. Right wingers simply detest Obama, regardless of Romney and will use him to suit their purposes. This debate further polarized the electorate, no winners, all losers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    Obama was a clear winner overall. He was clear and assured and spoke to women's right, the responsibility of government to provide balance on energy policy, the provision of education for the middle classes and minorities and the disaster that we was handed by Bush. Romney tried to play politics with Libya and that proved foolhardy. This was the rebound that Democrats wanted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    So I was right ‘Obama playing politics of gratitude to the gallery’. See #86 of the earlier blog "Obama's do-or-die debate".

    My PRC Chinese business counterparts always say “Some people can read and hear but cannot understand”. Seems applicable here, too, looking at the –ve votes for me.

    Nobody owes an incumbent POTUS anything or else there will unlimited terms for such post.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    So proud that in the UK women and young girls have had access to free birth control since its inception. Family planning clinics have been free to all women in the UK since 1921. It's a shame that the president presented his policy for birth control 'included in insurance' as 'progressive policy' rather than a human right. He is subtly conservative but I still hope he wins.


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