Live Blogging the Second Presidential Debate

Ok, it’s 9:55 and we are on.  As always, we will be watching on CNN.  We have the new blogging software installed, and I’m eager to see how it works, so send me a test comment.

Meanwhile, Candy Crowley just gave the audience instructions – it’s alot like what I tell my students before an exam: turn off electronic hand-held devices, etc.

(Cason: are you on from Italy?  We need the foreign perspective….)

By the way, in what may be an omen – or not – we were hit with a mild earthquake about 1/2 hour ago.   So Vermont is a “swing” state of sorts….

One of the controversies with the format is that Crowley is not supposed to pose follow-up questions, but she has vowed to do so -despite language crafted by both sides indicating that she shouldn’t do this.

The other controversy is that Mitt apparently has never sat on a bar stool, so he’s been practicing all day….

First question: appropriately enough, from a college student.  What’s in it for me?

Mitt comes out emphasizing two themes: I can create jobs, and I’m not an extremist.  Look for him to push both themes all night.  In this case, he’s not cutting student loans.  Obama will push him on this.

Key in this format – remember the questioner’s name, and make eye contact. And here Obama stresses his major theme – he’s already turning the economy around, and no thanks to Mitt.

Once again, remember the target audience here – Ohio!

Obama is overcaffeinated – is there such a thing as too much energy?

And Candy breaks the contract and asks a follow up question – you go, Candy!

(For those of you complaining about our “new” software – it’s not the software I recommended…..sorry about that!)

Mitt is going  to defend the bankruptcy claim – I’m not sure he wants to go there.

(Has Obama’s voice gone up?)  Looks like he’s going to try to needle Mitt.  There is some who argue that Mitt can be rattled in these forums, and that’s when he slips up.. Obama has certainly come out aggressively, and already pushed the Mitt as Vulture Capitalist meme.

Question: gas prices are too high – is it the government’s job to address this?  Mitt will go right to Keystone here. Can you say “pipeline”?  Obama is trying to preempt this, but here comes the outsourcing green jobs too.  This is really a better issue for Mitt.  Will Candy follow up here with an environmental emphasis?

Pipeline – Ding, Ding, Ding!

Obama was ready for the coal comeback citing Mitt’s famous campaign ad promising to close a coal plant.

Mitt is coming across as a bit too much of a bully  here, I think…..and he’s ceding time to the President. …not a smart tactic….

Fact checkers will go crazy here, and they will likely find that both sides are right, depending on how you define terms.  And here’s Mitt citing rules again.  OBama is taking a page out of Biden’s playbook – cut Mitt off, talk over him, and let no point go unanswered.

Pipeline again.

Nice response by Barack to tie lower gas prices to a recession.  And to cite workers in key battleground states.

Mitt once again claims knowledge of rules – and looks a bit like the prissy guy we’ve seen in previous debates.

Question:  taxes.  This should be good.  I expect Barack to push Mitt here on the details of his tax plan.

Mitt scoring really well here with the focus group.  I guess people like tax reductions.  Who knew?  I expect Barack disagrees. Expect him to say the number don’t add up.  And there’s the famous Biden “buried middle class” reference.  It’s all about the middle class.

Well, I’m shocked, shocked!  Barack also wants to protect the middle class!  And the focus group doesn’t mind raising taxes on the wealthy.  Both guys scored well here.  This really get to the philosophical difference between the two candidates, and their parties.

Split camera reveals Obama smiling at Romney’s five-point plan.   Shades of Joe Biden.  Here comes the inevitable attack on Mitt’s math.  So far it’s not playing real well with the focus group.  Women in particular don’t seem to be buying this attack on Mitt’s failure to specify which cuts he will make.  Even the big Bird reference doesn’t work.   Too much detail maybe?  Ah, but support picks up when he summarizes as “Math doesn’t add up.”

Candy doesn’t want Mitt to respond immediately – Mitt is ready to explode!  Mitt doesn’t really answer the question by specifying his numbers, does he?

Question:  gender pay inequities – how would you address this?  Remember, if polls are to be believed, Mitt has cut into the gender gap a bit recently.  Obama should score with his reference to Ledbetter act.  Also, he focuses on education – a winning issue with women.  I expect Mitt to focus on how many jobs women have lost in the last four years.  One of the underappreciated facts of this recovery is that men are doing better than women.

AS Romney talks about actively seeking qualified women, support for his skies among women – men stay flat.  Mitt doing better here than I expected with personal anecdotes, but why no mention of women losing jobs?  Ah, here it comes…. scoring well here.

Obama comes back with healthcare – another winning issue for him with women.  Although the contraception/insurance issue is actually not playing well with women – not sure why.  Ah, but he picks up support when he poses it as economic issues affecting women.

Question:  Tell me you are not Bush.  Mitt; again citing rules, wants to answer the last question first.  Romney – appeals to Latino vote with Central American trade.  Energy independence means no more foreign wars.  Generally scoring well here.   But who will stand up for Big business?  No one ever does.   Generally a strong response here by Romney on a potentially difficult question.  Barack  should have an easier time criticizing Bush!    His partial reference to outsourcing gets a positive blip, but otherwise this isn’t playing well – except when he pivots to what the Obama administration did to curtail unfair trade practices with China.   Interesting pivot at the end here to get the “romney as social extremist” theme in.

Question: You disappointed me. Once jilted, why trust you again?  Nice opportunity for Obama to cite his record, and he is doing it well.  Focus group is generally pleased. But when he pivots to attacking Romney for back millionaires, support drops, particularly among women.  It seems clear that women in particular do not react well to candidates’ attacking each other.  Same story here for the Romney response – not playing all that well either.  Both candidates need to heed Ronald Reagan lesson – tell us how you will make things better!  Romney – contrast the President’s speaking with the record.   “That’s what this election is about”.   Defining statement of his candidacy.

(Ooops – keystroke error – just deleted my comments on immigration!)   Note the audience here – key voting bloc in some key swing states, but both candidates have to tread carefully here.  This is a very polarizing issue, which is why both candidates try to distinguish between legal and illegal immigrants.

Romney has been waiting to pull a Gingrich moment here, and turn the tables on the President’s pension investment overseas, but it falls fall with all the cross-talk.  This started out well for both candidates but really degenerated quickly.

Question:  Benghazi (Seb – here’ s your foreign policy).   Note that Hillary fell on her sword earlier to give the President some cover on this issue.   Still, not a good issue for the President here.  “Hunt them down” – scores big with the focus group.  Shades of Bush!  And, don’t forget, I killed Bin Laden so I have credibility.   Look for Mitt to come back strong here.  Ok, maybe not.  Not quite sure focusing on Obama’s fundraising is really going to score points. Hmm…interesting tact here – Mitt is using this question to unload on all of the President’s foreign policy.   Candy has a follow up question – I think this is only the second one of the night.

The President is doing a great job here wrapping himself in the commander–in-chief flag, and it’s scoring well.  Romney’s effort to pin down Obama’s language is not really working here. Good exchange for the President.

Question:  What have you done about assault weapons?  Obama – weapons designed for soldiers shouldn’t be allowed on the streets.  But that’s only part of the problem.  Obama pushes a broader agenda here, and it seems to be playing well.  Romney pivots away from outlawing particular types of guns, and instead moves to broader socioeconomic issues.  Scoring well here as well. Both candidates played this well.  And Mitt gets in a shot at Fast and Furious.  Not sure a lot of people know the details about this?  Candy is having none of it – she wants to pin down Mitt’s views on assault weapons.

“Governor Romney was for a weapons assault before he was against it.”  Poor John Kerry – he will forever be tagged with that line…

Question:  Outsourcing of Jobs is bad. how to stop it?  Haven’t heard much about Bain yet, but it’s coming now!  Throw in the 47% comment while you are at it….Meanwhile, Mitt engages in some China-bashing and, by the way, label China as currency manipulator.  Obama is going to mention all the cases of unfair trade practices he’s brought against China.

Hmmm, now it’s the President who is going to close loopholes!  Candy wants to know how to get American companies to bring jobs home.  Mitt – level the playing field.  Obama – invest in advanced manufacturing.  (With whose money? He doesn’t say…)

Question: biggest misperception of you as man, and as a candidate?  Mitt: I’m not a 47% kind of guy. I believe in God. And the Olympics.  And got 100% of Massachusetts kids insured.   This quickly veers into a policy manifesto….

Obama – Bringing some passion here.  And here comes the 47% comment – and it falls flat with the focus group.   He’s was doing so well! Once he moves past this, however, and goes back to advancing opportunity, he scores better.

Ann is immediately on the floor – and here’s Michelle.

Let’s see how the post-debate spin plays out. I have to think the Obama supporters are happy.  Their guy came up off the mat and fought at least to a draw, if not an outright win on points.  (Time for the sports analogies).  I thought Mitt scored on the economic issues that favored him, but he made more obvious errors (the Libya exchange) and too often came across as too focused on rules, and scoring debating points.  Obama parried as well as he could on the economic issues, but it’s generally not a winning area for him.  But he was more aggressive and did a better job on keeping Romney on the defensive in terms of explaining himself.  And when he could wrap himself in the commander-in-chief role, he was able to bring some passion and righteous indignation to the debate.

Keep in mind that there are two narratives here – the one based what actually transpired, as seen by the audience, and then how the media interprets what happened.  The two do not always coincide.   We will have to see how the tweets play this – I completely forgot to see how the alternative universe was playing this – anyone keeping track of that?

On the whole, although Obama may be viewed as the “winner”, I’m not sure this is going to have nearly the polling impact that the first debate did, but that was my belief heading into this.  Both sides got all their talking points in, and did generally well in stressing their winning themes.

The key question to me is whether Obama’s aggressiveness scored points, but at the expense of laying out a positive vision as an alternative to Romney.  Romney, on the other hand, did what he always did: stayed relentlessly on message, which was jobs, jobs, jobs.  His major weakness was getting distracted by petty squabbles on rules and factual disputes. If I was a truly undecided voter, it’s not clear to me that either candidate earned my vote.

Remember, when you see a poll saying who “won” the debate, you need to also check on the partisan makeup of the viewership that was polled. I suspect Obama will be judged a slight winner, but probably not enough to move the polls among undecideds.

Ok, I took a quick look into the bizarro world of the twitterverse.  Here’s some selected tweets:

Maddow: “probably, I think, the best debate of Barack Obama’s career as a national politician.”  I’m sure she’s seen every one!

Erick Erickson@EWErickson

“Obama definitely did better than the last time, but I don’t think it was enough. Romney kept reminding everyone about Obama’s record.”   I’m shocked, shocked!

The Atlantic@TheAtlantic

.@JamesFallows breaks down tonight’s debate: Obama was strong, Romney was rattled (Fallows is a former Carter speechwriter.)

“Luntz focus group of former Obama voters calls it a win for Romney.”

This is why I love the twitterverse – neither side lives in reality.  Instead, they create virtual reality.   The strangest thing is they really, really,  really believe their alternative reality is real!

More spin:

“I’m still trying to figure out why Steve Schmidt wants me to believe that this debate wasn’t a TOTAL knock-out for PBO. #Debates #MSNBC

“Jay Cost@JayCostTWS

Candy Crowley did Obama a real disservice tonight by fact checking wrongly.”

And this: “RT @kakukowski: Candy Crowley now says @MittRomney was right: “He was right in the main, but he just chose the wrong word.”

This is a reminder why I’m down on “fact checking” – the Libya story is being spun by both sides as proving that their guy was right, and the other side was wrong.  The “truth” is that “reality” rarely can be summed up as either completely black or completely white.

Great participation tonight – thanks to all! I’ll have another go at the blogging software.  Maybe the third time is the charm? Meanwhile, I’ll be on tomorrow with an post-mortem.




  1. Not sure why that previous questioner ever would think that Obama would ever explicitly single out someone for being at fault for security measures in Libya attack…

  2. Gun laws – larger societal challenges – and how to prevent cycles of violence. I don’t disagree, but you have to screen some folks – don’t you? Maybe. Fast and Furious reference…somewhat predictable.

  3. I’m sorry, but labeling China as a currency manipulator on day 1….as a part of a plan, I don’t really buy into that helping the situation….maybe I’m being too partisan.

  4. Obama may have been a little ambitious there declaring that he only wants high-wage, high-skill jobs. Plenty of Americans would be happy with taking mid-wage to low-wage jobs right about now. May have been better off highlighting just how low wages Chinese Apple assembly workers are paid (would be interesting to know these statistics ).

  5. oh hey – religion. Where have you been this whole debate? And Mass as a model for education? Before, during and since….gosh I’m sick of him running on a liberal state’s record.

  6. Clear “win” for Obama, he looked so much better. Although, the margin of victory wasn’t as big as it was for Romney the other night.

  7. Yes economy is not Obama’s strong point, but will the economy improve if Romney is the president? I don’t think Romney shows that he’s going to perform better as a president. And he always focuses on details that nobody’s interested in. I think the undecided voter will just end up not voting for anybody…

  8. At the end of the debate, I suspect it will be a split decision; nothing I heard will change minds, except I suspect that the Libya debacle, with Candy interjecting (wrongly!!) to support the President will play for the next few days thus continuing to apply the thousand cuts to the Administration.

    I am predicting that Romney’s lead will widen due to concentrated advertising as he starts spending some of the money he hoarded while Obama pummeled him trying for the knockout.

    Remember, next week it is ALL foreign policy and Obama will have to hear it all again. And again. And Again. Libya is truly the October Surprise; not the event, but the cover up.

  9. When Obama lost the first debate, liberals say “Obama lost”.

    Romney loses second debate and conservatives say “Errr, it’s a tie.”

    Same with polling.

    It’s completely unfair and biased until Romney makes gains. Then those gains are real.

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