So, who "won" the debate last night? Well, I think the answer to that is better revealed by answering another question..."who exceeded expectations?" Yes, the expectations game. It goes hand in hand with debates. Lower the expectations before hand, then over-deliver on those expectations to be seen as a winner.
Anyway, I think both candidates did pretty well in their square off last night at Hofstra. Both had strong stretches. But I think there are two things that tip the balance to Obama.
First, I think Obama exceeded expectations. The expectation was that following his poor performance in the first debate (so...yes Romney fans, Romney squarely won the first debate, no argument), Obama had to come out and show energy, speak more from the heart, engage and challenge Romney. He did that, but I think he went a notch better to get in some really good, stinging points (47%, comparing Romney to Bush, women's health, taxes). Was it a Bill Clinton or Ronald Regan type performance? No. Was it effective? Yes.
Second, I think Romney - while doing fine on substance for his side - did not quite meet expectations for the second debate. He did so well in the first debate, his expectations were pretty high...he had to look just as good as the last debate and appear presidential. This is where he underachieved I think. Romney came off as a condescending bully towards Obama and the moderator through much of the debate. Plus, he said a couple stupid things - the most significant of which as his which "binders full of women" remark when trying to describe how he found qualified women to promote or put in positions of authority in his business (the point being, he didn't know qualified women because he himself had none of them at high positions and had to ask for binders containing info on women who might fit the bill for his plans). I'd also say his "I came up in small business" remark was so demonstrably not true as to be considered stupid. Anyway, I think Romney slightly underperformed in the expectations game with his demeanor and some of his answers. (Side note: the one thing that genuinely pissed me off was that Romeny, a Vietnam draft dodger and supporter of the false "find the weapons of mass destruction" Iraq war is using the tragic Libya situation as a political issue. Very, very hypocritical and shallow).
Will any of that matter when it comes to who wins? Not sure is the answer. Romney is probably ahead of Obama by a point or two in the overall voter preference polls this week, but here are some things to consider about that:
1) The popular vote tallies right now are within the margin of error. That means that if the election were held today, well, the numbers could go either way.
2) It ain't Nov. 5 yet. Debate performance impact on election results are difficult to judge. George W Bush was a horrible debater but won in 2004 (he didn't win in 2000, he was essentially appointed by the Supreme Court following the insanely close balloting in Florida and the lawsuits that followed). Reagan was a very good debater and won in 1980 and 1984. Probably the only real impact will be an aggregated one based on how undecided votes feel about either candidate after seeing each of the debates or at least hearing about them.
3) And finally, and most importantly, popular vote does not win you the presidency. The electoral college does. There, Obama has a lead and appears to have a lead in some very, very key states (PA, Mich, Ohio) that Romney would have to win to be the next President.
All of that to say, it was an interesting debate last night, I give a slight edge to Obama, but their performances only really matter at this point for either of them when it comes to key electoral college states. One more debate to go...then the election on Nov. 5. I think it's going to be really, really close but the electoral college will probably (probably) be in Obama's favor.