Tuesday night’s "town hall" debate between President Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was significantly different from what we saw and heard two weeks ago.
Here is how I scored the debate.
Delivery: Romney was choppy with audible pauses and hesitations. He also ignored the rules. He ran over on his time and interrupted when the President had the floor. The President also ran over on his time, but not as much. President Obama was direct and his delivery, while flawed at times, was smooth. I score Obama a 4 and Romney a 2.
Responsiveness to questions, the "duck" factor: As I previously have written, politicians are terrible in this area. Romney was in the same form as two weeks ago. His worst ducks were on the question about inequalities for women in the workplace. While President Obama talked about the Ledbetter and a refusal to tolerate discrimination, Romney spoke of how he assembled his cabinet in Massachusetts. He said his administration went out in search of qualified women. Really, Mitt? You had to look that hard in Massachusetts? Those women were not already in the government, industry, or on the faculties of the many fine institutions of higher education in the Commonwealth? He assembled binders full of women. (Were those three-ring binders with full-body photos?) He moved aside a question about assault rifles to talk about two-parent families. When he addressed differences between his proposed policies and those of the George W. Bush administration, he spoke of budget deficits and that he found Obamacare troubling. This was one point I found important: twice he attacked Obamacare, and twice President Obama described Obamacare as identical to the plan Romney had promoted in Massachusetts. I did not hear Romney deny that claim. Finally, Obama nailed Romney on Libya. Score here: Obama 4, Romney 1.
Evidence: Obama addressed the questions of coal and referred to Romney’s photop op as Massachusetts Governor in which Romney had pointed to a coal plant and said it kills. I saw the piece on TV. President Obama supported what he said with facts. Obama also was unafraid to call what Romney said as untrue. By contrast, Romney played fast and loose with the truth. His claim that President Obama took two weeks to call the attack in Benghazi an act of terrorism was called false by Obama. Even the moderator told Mitt that Mitt was wrong. I score Obama a 4 and Romney his first goose egg this week: 0.
Demeanor: Good opponents strengthen one’s performance. The take on Romney in prior debates has been he drags opponents down to his level. Obama started this debate aggressively but polished. Romney began to dispense with the rules of the debate during answers to the first question by saying something about having had the first answer and he would have the last. By the end of the debate, unfortunately, President Obama began to run over on time and tell the moderator he had more to say. Still, I thought the points here went to President Obama, but with a 3-1 score.
Organization: This was not a format given to well-organized approaches. However, on each question, I felt that Obama both answered the specific question more directly (see the first scoring category) and had a more organized approach. Romney seemed geared to his talking points. Give this to Obama 4-1.
Gaffes: Points here go to the debater who has fewer or no gaffes. Romney stepped into "it" a few times here. The "binders" of women his administration in Massachusetts put together should come back to haunt him. His attack on the matter of Libya also was a mistake. President Obama did not make any errors so noticeable. Score it Obama 4 point to Romney’s 0.
Let me make sure I have the math right. Obama: 4 + 4 + 4 + 3+ 4 + 4 = 23 points. Romney: 2 + 1 + 0+ 1 + 1 + 0 = 5.
Others might have seen the debate as closer. When broken down to its elements, however, each man’s performance was such that I thought this was a big win for President Obama.