2012 US Election, Andy Hume, Jason Jarvis, Ray D'Cruz, Wayne Jocic

Election Debates’ Verdict: Obama wins Second Presidential Debate

Governor Romney and President Obama in a robust exchange during the Second Presidential Debate, in a town hall format

Election Debates has declared President Barack Obama the winner of the Second Presidential Debate. [Watch the debate]

In what was a robust exchange in a town hall format, both speakers went on the offensive. Governor Romney largely continued the themes of the first debate, while Obama was more succinct and aggressive this time around.

On the substantive matters raised during the debate, Romney struggled on the central campaign issue of tax. Ray D’Cruz wrote that “The Governor was particularly vague on tax policy. When questioned directly about the lack of detail on his promise to close tax loopholes, Romney refused to be specific … The President hurt the Governor in the exchange that followed, tallying his expenditure and drawing conclusions about the consequences. Romney could not offer a substantive defence.” Other judges agreed, with Jason Jarvis suggesting that Romney appeared “defensive when trying to discuss taxes” and still refuses to identify the deductions he would eliminate” and Andy Hume liking Obama’s closing line on the issue “You were an investor; you wouldn’t take such a sketchy deal”.

Obama also appeared to have an advantage on women’s rights. Jason Jarvis was critical of Romney: “…he avoided talking about legislative issues and rambled about how he tried to hire women in his own companies and cabinet, with now viral “binders full of women” comment.  Romney failed to address the linkages drawn by Obama between Planned Parenthood and women’s economic well-being.” Obama would return to the issue later in the debate when comparing Romney to President George W. Bush.

The President turned what should have been a certain loss on the Libyan Embassy attack into a win through a mixture of indignation, moderator assistance and Romney confusion. The Governor was found out for an incorrect claim that the President had been slow to recognise it as an act of terror. Unusually it was the moderator who did the real-time fact checking. Romney’s stumble will have served to underline the overall message that he bungles foreign relations. There’ll no doubt be a further interesting reprisal of this in the final debate, with its foreign policy focus.

It wasn’t all Obama’s way. Romney made headway early on jobs and got the better of the energy debate, hitting Obama hard on the Canadian pipeline. While Obama did counter on clean energy he struggled when the moderator intervened and refocussed the issue on gas prices. Jason Jarvis characterised Obama’s approach: “It is safe to say that Obama’s strategy on this issue is duck and cover.” Cost of living pressures, especially gas prices are difficult issues for incumbents to address.

Obama also had the better in terms of manner. Wayne Jocic stated that “Obama’s manner in these skirmishes was feisty but measured; Romney became by contrast too domineering and less likeable.” Andy Hume felt that Romney was occasionally too aggressive, particularly in dealings with moderator and that Obama was able to balance an aggressive approach with moments of humour, such as the tricky exchange on personal investments.

Conclusions do matter – they can rest in the minds of the audience – and Romney erred in one respect when making his final pitch: he told us he cared about “100% of the American people”. What was, as Andy Hume noted, a “clearly crafted as a pre-emptive answer to the Obama attack line that observers had been anticipating was an unforced blunder, giving his rival the perfect excuse to use the only statistic that anyone will remember tomorrow. Obama took full advantage, reminding the audience of Romney’s fateful “47%” comment earlier in the year.” It was a highly relevant close to a series of arguments where the president sought to cast himself as the champion of the middle class.

To read the full adjudications, click on the links above. Election Debates will be covering the third and final presidential debate.

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