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Last Night’s Debate: 5 Take-Aways!

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By now, we know that most polls declare President Barack Obama the winner in last night’s second of three presidential debates. CBS news poll of uncommitted voters gave Obama the 37 to 30 percent lead over Romney, with 33 percent saying it was a tie; and a CNN ORC poll pitting Obama 46 to  Romney’s 39 percent with a Microsoft and Women instant poll also giving the win to Obama.

Granted, the president had a lower bar to climb given how bad he’d done in the first debate. Governor Mitt Romney’s task was to maintain momentum and energy and use the president’s record on the economy against him as much as possible. Obama was clearly more energetic and aggressive than on October 3rd. He challenged Romney rather than sit back and wait his turn to speak.  President Obama interrupted his opponent and even the moderator at times when he thought Mitt wasn’t playing by the debate rules.

Here are five take aways.

1.      Battle of Semantics

Today, we are seeing yet another example of why American politics is “short attention span theater.” Rather than discussing the policies and politics discussed last night many seem fixated on semantics.  This round’s “Big Bird” or ”Invisible Chair” is  “Binders full of women.” It is an inartful phrase Romney used to describe a binder full of qualified female candidates he relied upon to appoint many women to high ranking positions in his cabinet when he was governor of Massachusetts.  From the time he uttered the phrase to the end of the debate a Tumblr account had sprouted up and RomneysBinder became a much followed Twitter account. This morning Obama supporting SuperPAC American Bridge, had funded the website BindersFullOfWomen.com

Because the Republican party and Mitt Romney and his running mate Congressman Paul Ryan are perceived as being anti-women and wanting to roll back women’s rights, folks are willing to overlook the fact Mitt hired more women in his cabinet and as senior officials than other governors of the remaining 49 states, including Democratic governors, in office at the same time. They are not willing to give his clumsy language a pass. By now we know more about how those binders came to be and that a consulting group, MassGAP, assembled the binder in advance of the final election on its own initiative to give to whichever man would win the election.

Likewise, there was an obsession over whether the day after the attacks in Libya on September 11 this year which killed U.S. Ambassador Stevens Obama called the assault an “act of terror” or not.  He said he did. Romney challenged. Moderator Candy Crowley backed President Obama but still opened the door for Mitt to flail a bit going on and on about it after it was supposedly shut down as an issue. Only thing, a few hours later Crowley herself had to backtrack. It turns out that while the president used the words “attack or violence” 6 times, it is unclear that his mention of “acts of terror” was specific to the Benghazi attack or just a general condemnation of terror acts in general.

The jury is still out. Here are 4 other takeaways from the debate:

2. Fail of the Townhall Format – The 82 New York undecided residents that the Gallup polling organization assembled yesterday were really part of the background noise. After a few of the 13 whose questions were picked to be asked last night stood, they well could have disappeared in the dark. Neither men really engaged them much other than botching their name [Lorraine] or looping their name back into their answer. The insistence of veteran journalist and CNN anchor Candy Crowley to interject herself in the debate and offer follow up questions may have done it in for the town hall format.  It was more like a conversation, sometimes heated, between three people.

3. Mitt continues to pivot to the center – During the first debate we saw Mitt seemingly soften his stance on Immigration. He enunciated that he is against deporting those currently in the country without proper authority or documentation and willing to preserve the President’s deferred action policy letting children of undocumented immigrants be saved from deportation and given rights to work and go to school.  And last night on women’s rights, Romney said “women have rights to access to contraceptives.” That position may go against what has been argued in the past and counter to what some in the religious right believe. He also said he believes in the Pell Grant although Ryan’s budget calls for severe budget cuts to the Pell Grant program.

4. The Tone of Combativeness Continues – Those who live in so-called “swing” states, those that could go either blue or red next month, have probably been inundated daily and nightly seeing attack ads on their television screens.  They may have tuned into the debate looking for a break from it all and to get definitive details on each man’s vision for the future. What they got was a highly combative, aggressive, finger pointing cock fight which was what went down last night. The distinctions are clear but those who are undecided and looking for that one nuanced policy or position to win them over, may not have been able to see through the cloud of dust from the fierce rumbling and hyperbolic exchanges. If anything, it made for a very lively debate compared to the wonky snoozefest that was their first meeting!

5. The Moderator in the Story – We also know from the past debates that at the end of the night whichever party is complaining of the moderator lost. Minutes after it ended, Drudge report had already calculated that Candy Crowley gave Obama 9% more time than Romney. Later, others pointed out that she interrupted Romney 28 to Obama’s 9 times and that the questions leaned more towards Obama and Democrats. Fair game.  If one were to judge by the vitriol spewed on Twitter, then the fact that some anti-Obama tweeps were calling names may be a clue they weren’t so confident their guy won. Last round, there was no time for that because it was all Romney praise all the time.

With Obama winning this round we now look forward to the tie-break.

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