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 Presenter, The World This Weekend

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  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    Imagine if EU had been around in Hitler's heyday

    Would Prescott have cared either way?

  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    California numbers (debt, revenue, etc):

    CA: 12% of US population, 33% of US welfare recipients.
    CA: largest US state debt @ $612bn (incl unfunded pension liabilities)
    CA deficit for 2011: $25bn

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    McJakome: as an academician (!?), you seem entitled to churn out completely unfounded statements. Since you never produced data to prove your claims, here it is:

    Get it? Top three per capita welfare fed spending stated are: DC,, NY and Cali. 4th: another blue state, NM. Happy rading and data assimilating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 408.

    389. as is
    My statement was that most blue states pay into the system, while red states receive money from the system. I provided information supporting that statement. You have never provided support to your statement that blue states are broke, because you can't. In any case it is your turn to put up.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    Pmk: I've never met anybody who'd introduce himself to me as a 'European'; all stating they were Dutch, French, German, Italian Spanish, etc.

    Well theres been so many wars between them all
    you would think that would make them want to be even more independent today

    But now that they linked their economy together with Euro
    its like they are all less independent than ever

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    Pmk: United States of Europe being but a Commi-ssars' pipe dream

    Imagine if EU had been around in Hitler's heyday

    Hitler would have loved it b/c it would have been so much easier to take over Europe

    If EU had been around back then, things would be very different today

    Europeans seem casual about the EU
    even though it wants to take away their democracy

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    "A group of countries is not the same as a group of states in one country"

    Lucy, I've never met anybody who'd introduce himself to me as a 'European'; all stating they were Dutch, French, German, Italian Spanish, etc.

    [Though I've never met a US citizen wou'd introduce himself as a Arizonian, Californian, Texan, Virginian]

    United States of Europe being but a Commi-ssars' pipe dream.

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.

    Pmk: Like Ashton, Barroso, Draghi, Hollande, Merkel, von Rompuy, etc., EU consistently produces?

    They were trying to imitate America's founding fathers
    but they have fallen drastically short

    A group of countries is not the same as a group of states in one country

    At some point something is going to have to give

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    Pmk: wouldn't be even half as bad as US becoming another Greece, Portugal, Spain or Italy

    Illinois is doing pretty tough but you are right,
    its not near as bad as what Greece, etc is at this time

    Romney is probably about America's only hope to cut our debt+
    balance our budget sheets

    One of biggest things he mentioned in speech is putting tariffs on China
    which would change everything

  • rate this

    Comment number 402.

    "Why country as big as US cannot produce charismatic, intellectually brilliant leaders?"

    Like Ashton, Barroso, Draghi, Hollande, Merkel, von Rompuy, etc., EU consistently produces?

  • rate this

    Comment number 401.

    Lucy: "Does the USA want to be more like Chicago or Massachusetts?"

    It wouldn't be even half as bad as US becoming another Greece, Portugal, Spain or Italy. [Italy having no real growth since 1998 and being a candidate for a 2 TRILLION euro bail-out].

    P.S. Look at the pie-chart in your 1040 IRS form. Unless ENTITLEMENTS are reformed pronto US is facing another (costly!) credit downgrade.

  • rate this

    Comment number 400.

    "Romney insulted China and Greece by the following comments, "Chinese are cheats and currency manipulators" and "the president's plan is the road to Greece"


    Truth is always most offensive. China having been a proven dumper and currency manipulator; Greece - a veritable bankrupt (as Spain) and after 4 years of Obamacare US has passed a $16 TRILLION mark re its national debt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 399.


    The reason we aren't so bothered is because the French and the Germans don't seek or pretend to run the world in the same way as America does.

    We have close ties with the Germans and French and the rest of the european policies that our governments supposedly work together in harmony to solve EU problems so we have influence there anyway.

  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    The American people will see through the Romney spin and deceipt in the end.. The GOP has serious problems if this is the best candidate they can come up with. I think its been ruined by internal groups like the Tea Party who are quite simply racist in their approach.Over to you the great American electorate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 397.

    386 AndreaNY ‘I've never made any statement about Obama and his teleprompter’

    Indeed. However, when I made that particular statement I was talking about Rep propagandists who endlessly boost Romney and co and continue their interminable hate-filled sniping and whining at Obama + the Dems IN GENERAL.

    Not you in particular

  • rate this

    Comment number 396.

    298. standsforreason "...if the current administration's energy policies were working, then gas prices would be lower, which is a real whopper..." The fact that he would say something this dumb shows his estimation of the voters he is trying to appeal to. Too bad they aren't clever enough to be offended.

  • rate this

    Comment number 395.

    392. AndreaNY "Intended as an insult, I'm sure..." Could this be a case of the pot calling the kettle black?

  • rate this

    Comment number 394.

    345. AndreaNY "...small businesses file as individuals..." But they are only taxed on their net income, not their gross income. So increasing taxes on millionaires would not inhibit their taking on an employee, because the cost of the employee reduces the net, before tax is calculated. Or are you concerned they wouldn't be able to hire as many maids and gardeners?

  • rate this

    Comment number 393.

    387. AndreaNY " Thus, he and...had culpability for events in those Bush years." You failed to notice Obama didn't become a U.S. Senator until January 2005. This was after Bush and the Republicans had put two wars on the credit card, put a tax cut primarily for the rich on the credit card, put a drug benefit on the credit card and appointed regulators who didn't believe in regulation. Greenspan?

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    390. Hungery

    275. AndreaNY Re-writing history again. If you followed news sources other than Rush Limbaugh

    Intended as an insult, I'm sure, but I don't listen to Limbaugh.

    According to Bob Woodward, (The Price of Politics) when close to a deal, Obama pressed Boehner, who had his own party probs, for more and the deal fell apart.

    Obama simply had no relationships to bridge the divide.


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