President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney needed to accomplish five things at the presidential debate Tuesday night at Hofstra University. Here’s a quick report card grading their efforts:
1. Bounce back.
Obama was much more engaged – and engaging – than he was in the first debate in Denver two weeks ago. He repeatedly challenged Romney’s assertions and even caught the Republican candidate in a misstatement about Libya.
2. Show a little energy.
Barack Obama is never going to be Mister Caffeine. But he acted like he actually wanted to win another term as president.
3. Tell us about the future.
Neither candidate was generous with details about their plans. But Obama did offer glimpses of how he would handle tax policy and immigration reform if he wins a second term.
4. Lay out a contrasting vision.
If voters don’t understand the chasm between Obama and Romney on tax policy now, they never will. Obama did his best job of the campaign laying out differences. He also outlined the differences on energy policy – whether you agree with him or not.
5. Control the issues agenda.
Unlike the debate in Denver, Obama wasn’t on defensive all the time. On the automobile company bailout, taxes, women’s issues and immigration, the president forced Romney to respond to his charges.
1. Regain the momentum.
Romney’s performance should satisfy his base, but he’s unlikely to pick up much steam with remaining swing voters. He’ll need a strong closing argument in the final debate next week to do that.
2. Focus on economic solutions to average people’s problems.
Romney’s favorite phrase of the night was that ”middle-income families have been buried” by Obama’s handling of the economy. For good measure, he also said they’ve been ”crushed.” Solutions? Lower tax rates. Fewer deductions. No capital gains taxes or inheritance taxes. More drilling for oil and gas.
3. How will it play in Ohio?
Romney was forced to play defense on Obama’s auto rescue package, which saved tens of thousands of Ohio jobs. He didn’t talk much about rebuilding American manufacturing.
4. Appeal to independent voters.
Romney strongly distanced himself from former President George W. Bush on issues ranging from the deficit to China. He sounded much more moderate on issues such as immigration, where he distanced himself from the Arizona law he backs, and taxes, where he disavowed his primary campaign promise to lower everyone’s taxes – even the top 1 percent of Americans.
5. Don’t lose your cool.
Under a barrage of criticism, Romney proved unflappable. He didn’t surrender, he didn’t retreat. And he kept trying to talk, even when moderator Candy Crowley tried to cut him off.