Who Won the Debate Tonight: Obama Gains Win Over Romney


Tuesday’s presidential debate will be a town hall meeting, a very different feel than the initial vice presidential and presidential contests. President Obama and Mitt Romney will be asked prescreened questions from the audience and will be judged on their substance and their interactions with the spectators. After Romney’s clear victory in the first debate, and subsequent bump in the polls, Obama must be more aggressive and assertive Tuesday night to rebound from his defeat. As the Wall Street Journal points out, however, the town hall format will make it difficult for both candidates to directly attack each other, adding more intrigue to the contest.


For Obama: Brookings and Washington Post Opinion Writer E.J Dionne explains, “As he tries to engineer a comeback in this week’s presidential debate, President Obama needs to recognize two things. First, when it comes to politics, Mitt Romney treats himself as a product, not a person. Second, Republicans cannot defend their proposals in terms that are acceptable to a majority of voters. You can imagine Romney someday saying: ‘Politicians are products, my friend.’” 

Likewise, Obama must demand specifics from Romney’s tax plan but also must press him on foreign policy. Romney champions his business experience to bolster his qualifications to steward the economy, but on foreign policy Obama’s four years as commander and chief trumps anything in Romney’s past. This is a great opportunity for Obama to paint himself as the logical choice when it comes to foreign affairs and as the only candidate with a credible and specific economic plan.

For Romney: The formula is clear according to the Wall Street Journal stating that “Mr. Romney, meanwhile, has to balance taking a forceful tone with the president while ensuring the voters feel like he is connecting with them and directly responding to their questions, aides said.”

Romney is always attacked for being disconnected with the individual voter and this town hall is his opportunity to show the American people that he can effectively address individual concerns. Romney has the momentum going into Tuesday and must continue it. He cannot stand idly to Obama’s attacks if he is serious about winning in November. Romney needs to show his legitimacy as a foreign policy leader to distinguish himself from the President.

For Candy Crowley:  As the first woman to moderate a presidential debate, she wont take it lightly and will be sure to be on her game. Besides, it shouldn’t be difficult to be better than Jim Lehrer.

How will both candidates respond to these challenges and put forth their very different visions for America? Stay tuned to see how each candidate's talking points resonate with a controlled group of college students!

PolicyMic will be covering the presidential debate live. For live updates bookmark and refresh this page.

Final Grades: 

The president rebounded significantly tonight after being absolutely trounced in the last debate. He made Mitt Romney seem disrespectful to the administration on Libya, called him out on lying about the Rose Garden address (even got Candy Crowly backing him up on that one), and attacked Mitt Romney's lack of specifics on his tax plans. He bested many people's expectations about his ability to master the town hall debate format and use it to get tough on Mitt Romney. His biggest fault tonight was not explaining Libya thoroughly and avoiding the question. Nonetheless, Obama did exactly what he needed to do, and expect it to be reflected in the polls in the coming days.

Mitt Romney: C+

Mitt Romney expected that the President would come out swinging, but he did not respond apropriately. Even though the questions were pre-screened, he allowed President Obama to dictate the agenda in the debate. All he needed to do is name one specific loophole that would be closed to refute Obama's tax attack and he couldn't do that. He allowed Obama to stop his momentum and now he needs to regroup for the next debate.



10:40 - Fully enjoyed the closing statements by both candidates. The 45% comment rhetoric is getting old, however Obama is able to present it well. This debate was too intense and I'm sure at times it turned a lot of voters off to the Presidential election. I wish there was better order, and not the two candidates talking over Candy Crowley.

10:33 - "High wage, High skill jobs." Obama is killing this question right now. Romney had a good response but Obama has the advantage.

10:27 - Romney has brought up "Trickle-Down" government once again. The currency manipulator point is consistently a hit. Obama has had that opportunity but has not pursued it.

10:24 - Candy Crowley is really tough on Romney right now which is exactly what the voters need. Obama pointing out Romney's flip-flops on gun control are all over the internet. Check business insider here: 


10:22 - Here comes the Romney fast and furious attack. Romney is stuttering and seems incredibly unsure of himself. He's dropped the ball at this point beyond recovery.

10:21 - Hey, Romney is actually agreeing with Obama here. After all the bickering tonight, its great to see this debate calm down just a little bit. 

10:19 - Obama discussing the assault weapons ban is a great talking point. I'm glad that he's hitting at the root causes of crime right now. He's showing the American people that he truly understands that this issue is multi-causal.

10:15 - I appreciate the President taking full responsibility for the atrocities in Libya. Its "offensive" to say that the day after the attack. "Can you say that a little louder Candy?" Romney has absolutely fell flat. He just needs to sit down. Obama labelled Libya a terrorist attack the next day, and that is a fact!

10:13 - Romney needed a stronger response. Total dud on foreign policy right there.

10:10 - Obama looks uncertain answering this Libya question. Hillary accepting responsibility was such a huge political move to take responsibility off of Obama. Straight talk from Obama on all the foreign policy issues is great at the moment. He needs to continue with this offensive, but needs to directly address this question.

10:08 - I feel really bad for Candy Crowly right now.

10:06 - Romney is looking really uncertain right now. HAHA, what a great zinger "[my pension] is not as big as yours." 

10:02 - I question Obama's true progress on immigration. Just watch Farreed Zakaria's immigration special to show our system's shortcomings and the lack of reform in recent years.



10:00 - "You shouldn't have to hire a lawyer to figure out how to get into this country." Solid point by Romney. Romney is very articulate about his immigration policy right now making the case for those waiting in line for legal immigration over illegal immigration.

9:54 - Obama has recieved 6 more minutes of speaking time than Romney. He's doing exactly what he needs to do right now. Romney's response needs to be better here. There needs to be more than just a "repeat of the last four years." Also, Mr.Romney you need to be able to complete a sentence.

9:52 - When in doubt, the President plays the Osama card.

9:50 - Obama's attacks on Romney for Bain's involvement in China is really getting old. But now that he's point to his own trade actions which are GREAT talking points. Amazing response here, trying to make Romney seem even worse than Bush.

9:45 - The Five-point plan is being rehashed so many times. He's effectively critiquing George Bush, especially on the deficit.

9:44 -  Planned Parenthood was mentioned. Here comes the abortion question! Obama is being really smart right now by setting the agenda for the debate moving forward.

9:41 - Solid example about involving women in his cabinet in Massachusetts by Romney.  But awkward reference with "Binders of Women."

9:37 - "Smart as a whip." Alright Mr. President, thank you for signing this bill but where are the substantive effects of it? Both candidates NEED to play to the female vote right now. It will be the difference maker in November.

9:35 - Romney needs to sit down. He's starting to look really stiff. Obama was able to effectively call out Romney for not giving specifics. Romney just needs to name ONE exemption and this would go away. Of course, the failing European countries are being referenced.

9:34 - Professor Obama is whipping out the arithmetic and adding all numbers. Looking forward to seeing how romney takes this response. First "Big Bird" of the night!

9:32 - Romney's explanation of his tax policies is a fundamental explanation of Republican policy. Nothing new to my ears.

9:27 - Whenever Obama evokes Bill Clinton it works. Also great response regarding Romney calling the tax rates fair.

9:25 - "Pick a number", wow Romney, making up facts on the spot. I understand you are ttrying to make a point but Obama seems primed for a great rebuttal.

9:23 - Mitt Romney interupting Candy Crowly is a TERRIBLE move. He just needs to stop talking here.

9:21 - According to politifact, the 14% dip in oil production statistic is half true. You be the judge.


9:19 - Wow, finally both candidates are going back and fourth and attacking eachother. I would love to see both of them get into a fight.

9:14 - Romney's response is extremely predictable regarding less drilling on government lands. This talking point has been recited by republicans for a while. At the same time, he is effective at putting his viewpoint together. Energy independence sounds great, regardless of who says it. Check this chart from the Washington Post:

9:13 - The President is showing his expertise on green energy issues. By focusing the debate on this topic its difficult for Mitt Romney to state that he has put forth real solutions for environmental sustainability. I'm glad Obama is getting aggressive when it comes to foreign policy and saying he wont let China get away with manipulating energy prices.

9:11 - Obama is on the offensive and is trying to paint a class warfare mentality with this answer. Its definitely effective with some voters but not with all.

9:09 - Is it just me, or does Mitt Romney's five-point plan is starting to sound as repetitive as Herman Cain. Romney's explanation for bankruptcy of the Detroit auto-industry was not as good as it could be.

9:06 - Obama's first response is going well. He's presenting his arguments logically and explaining them systematically with his three point plan. Manufacturing and energy are always good talking points when it comes to investments, but don't be surprised if Romney brings up Solyndra again.

9:03 - A solid first question for the debate. Mitt Romney's body language is already going well. He made sure to walk towards the question asker and is adressing him directly. The Massachusetts program is promising, but will it be implemented on a federal level?

9:02 - And here we go! Great poise by Candy Crowly already, but she may be too optimistic about her ability to control the debate.

9:00 -  Independents and suburban women... the key to tonight's debate according to John King

8:59 - As usual CNN's focus group of undecided voters are going to try to tell you how to think! Watch the magic graph go up and down!

8:58 - Oh the irony of tonight's debate already. Excited to see how Candy Crowly does it though. Just moments away!

8:56 - Sarcasm from America's coolest mayor:

8:50 - Rule number 1: Mr. President don't do this tonight

8:44 PM - Wow, Hofstra is really charging big money for the journalists in attendence. 

8:41 PM - Robert Gibbs is making the point on CNN that this format benefits Obama. The President is definitely more personable in these situations than Mitt Romney, however its difficult to say that tonight's format will give Obama the boost from the debate.

8:39 PM - Just moments before the debate and Mitt Romney is just chillin':

8:37 PM - USA Today has an excellent debate breakdown:


The wind at Romney's back: The Republican's team says the momentum belongs to Romney after the Oct. 3 debate in Denver. Romney has been practicing the same way he did for the Denver debate, by focusing on what he wants to do if elected and why the time is right for America to change course. Can he build on the gains he has already made?

The challenge of speaking directly to voters: The people posing the questions want to be persuaded, which means Obama and Romney have to be engaging, empathetic, believable, likable and presidential -- sometimes all at the same time. It's a danger to appear disengaged, as George H.W. Bush did when he looked at his watch in the 1992 town hall debate. Or to get in your opponent's face, as Al Gore did in 2000 when he walked right up to George W. Bush. 

Finding an opening: Obama surprised some people by not bringing up Romney's comment about 47% of Americans are "victims" who rely on government support during the first debate. He also didn't talk about Romney's record running Bain Capital. Both have been the subject of Obama's campaign commercials. Romney, meanwhile, has been making an issue of Obama's foreign policy and his administration's handling of the deadly attack at the U.S. Consulate in Libya. Will they find a clear path for these attacks?

Prelude to the finale: There is one more debate on Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Florida, and it's supposed to be devoted entirely to foreign policy. The town hall-style debate could be the last chance Obama or Romney can make a direct appeal about their plans to boost the economy. Expect to hear a lot about jobs, taxes and even Romney's "you didn't build that" charge that Obama doesn't help small businesses.

8:30 PM - Despite the fact that Hillary claimed responsibility for the Libya attacks, there is no way the President will not be questioned by Candy Crowly and Mitt Romney about the events over the past few weeks. 


8:18 PM - With the enormous amount of money both campaigns have, the two candidates have barraged the swing states with negative advertisements. According to this analysis it has turned off the majority of people to this campaign. 


8:05 PM - The official presidential debate drinking game is back. Be safe if you participate! My favorite is if Romney says the middle class has been "hammered."

7:26 PM - Despite being an obvious choice to win in 2012 less than a month ago, President Obama is against the ropes in the final weeks of the election. This may be a bit of an overstatement, but the Obama campaign needs to come up big tonight and over the closing weeks of this election. The Economist reviewed the current state of the Obama campaign, exposing the lack of impact the current message has in relation to hope and change of 2008


7:14 PM - And Romney's $5 Plan is also a hot hashtag. 

7:08 PM - Twitter is buzzing already! #Obamadebate tips is picking up steam with tons of suggestions for how the president can recapture the momentum tonight!

7:00 PM - CNN's body language expert discusses this thoroughly by taking examples from all sorts of debates from different elections. The Clinton example of being personable and emotionally showing concern for the voter is what both candidates have to go for tonight.

6:52 PM - To futher the point about body language tonight, take the town hall debate between George Bush and Al Gore in 2000. Gore tries to intimidate Bush, but looks silly after Bush gives him a head nod.

6:44 PM - As is expected with these town hall style debates, nuances, facial expressions, personality, and generally non-substantive cues will be signficant in determining who wins tonight's debate. Mark Baraback in today's Los Angeles Times explains this phenomenon thoroughly and included an interview with a Republican Debate Coach:

You can read the full article here: 


9:08 AM - This morning's Real Clear Politics aggregate polling average puts Obama and Romney in a statistical tie. Tonight's debate will have an impact on the polling numbers, but I highly doubt there will be as clear a winner as last time because of the format.