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Highlights and Lowlights from the Second Presidential Debate

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on stage at the first presidential debate. October 4, 2012.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama on stage at the first presidential debate. October 4, 2012. Photo courtesy of Voice of America, PD.

Last night President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney faced off in a town hall style debate with 100 undecided voters selected by Gallup. Below are some highlights and lowlights of the evening.

  1. Survey says? According to a CNN/ORC poll of registered voters, 46 percent thought Obama won, while 36 percent thought Romney won. A CBS News poll of undecided voters found 37 percent thought Obama won, while 30 percent said Romney did and 33 percent thought it was a tie. A Google Consumer Surveys poll of registered voters found 48 percent of registered voters saying Obama won, compared to 31 percent who said Romney won.
  2. The feistiness that marked the debate began before it even started when Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein and her running mate, Cheri Honkala, were arrested in a failed attempt to attend the debate. Even though the Green Party candidates will be on an estimated 85 percent of ballots this election year, the Commission on Presidential Debates sets the bar at 15 percent in the polls for third party candidates to participate.
  3. In an attempt to close the gender gap and reach out to women, Mitt Romney likely accomplished the opposite when he uttered the buzz phrase of the evening –  “Binders full of women.” Romney said:

We took a concerted effort to go out and find women who had backgrounds that could be qualified to become members of our Cabinet. I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks.’ And they brought us whole binders full of women.

The phrase has given birth to memes galore. Expect to see a lot of talk show jokes and Halloween costumes in the coming days.

  1. In addition to being debate referee, Candy Crowley also took on the role of fact checker during a heated exchange about whether the president called the attacks on the Benghazi consulate an “act of terror” the following day. Here’s the exchange from the debate:

ROMNEY: I think it’s interesting the president just said something which — which is that on the day after the attack, he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror.

OBAMA: That’s what I said.

ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror? It was not a spontaneous demonstration? Is that what you’re saying?

OBAMA: Please proceed, governor.

ROMNEY: I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror.

OBAMA: Get the transcript.

The exchange allowed Obama to deflect a Republican attack on his foreign policy. In his defense, Romney seemed tripped up by the phrasing “act of terror” during the debate. He was right to point out that Obama didn’t say “terrorism” and it was several days before the President did so.   

  1. All the rhetorical exchanges and claims once again kept fact checkers up all night. Obama exaggerated a number of points to his benefit including: Romney’s op-ed about letting Detroit go bankrupt; the meaning of the metrics of building “enough pipeline to wrap around the Earth;” how much of a tax break he’s given to middle class during his administration; and Romney’s position on the Arizona law. For his part, Romney exaggerated: how impressive his job creation plan actually is; claims that Obama will raise taxes on the middle class; the benefits of his own tax cuts to the middle class; the metric on unemployment when he claimed it would be at 10.7 percent if you included those who dropped out of the workforce; and the math regarding his claim that Obama has doubled the deficit; that Obama’s Middle East policy began with “an apology tour.”
  2. Like every candidate since Jimmy Carter, Obama and Romney each laid out claims and plans for making the United States energy independent. However, neither discussed what they would do about climate disruption.
  3. After being criticized for not raising it the first presidential debate, Obama levied an attack against Romney over his 47 percent remarks:

When he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considers themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about: folks on social security who have worked all their lives; veterans, who sacrificed for this country; students, who are out there trying to hopefully advance their own dreams but also this country’s dreams; soldiers, who are overseas fighting for us right now; people who are working hard every day.

  1. Romney ably responded to the President’s claim that he wanted to “let Detroit go bankrupt”:

The president took Detroit bankrupt. You took General Motors bankrupt. You took Chrysler bankrupt. So when you say that I wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt, you actually did. And I think it’s important to know that was a process that was necessary to get those companies back on their feet so they could start hiring more people.

  1. Neither candidate was willing to take on the gun lobby as both deflected a question regarding what they would do on gun control. President Obama began his response by voicing support for the Second Amendment. He called for enforcing laws already on the books rather than introducing new legislation. Romney also said he wasn’t in favor of new legislation and blamed partisan gridlock for the lack of progress on banning assault weapons.

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