I'm going to give this one to Obama. Even without his opponent's implosion on what should have been his greatest weapon - Libya - the President was assured and calm, but aggressive too. My only caveat is that viewers may respond poorly to interruptions - but those were balanced by Romney's constant whining about how much time he had.
CBS's snap-poll has Obama winning, by 37% to 30%, with 33% saying it was a tie. More polls will be coming in over the next 24 hours.
The final question is a doozy. “What do you believe is the biggest misperception that the American people have about you as a man and a candidate. Debunk those misperceptions.”
Predictably, though, the candidates pay only lip-service to it and instead take the opportunity to make their own summings-up.
MR “Thank you. It seems that some campaigns are attacking a single person. In the course of that, I think the President's campaign has tried to paint me as someone different than who I am.” He tries to address the hidden video footage of him. “I care about 100 per cent of the American people.”
Then he goes on a quick-fire bullet-point list of his experiences.
“I spent my life in the private sector, not in government. I want to make my experience help people. … I am a man of god. I was a missionary for my church. I served as a pastor for my church. .. As Governor, I was able to get almost everyone insured. … Our schools were number one in the country.”
He ends: “If I become President, I'll get America working again. - I've done these things.
Obama spends even less time on the question: “I think a lot of this campaign has been devoted to this notion that I think government creates jobs. That's not what I believe. I believe the free enterprise system is the greatest engine of prosperity the world has eve known. But I also believe that everyone should have a shot, everyone should have a fair chance.”
He saves the 47 percent answer for the very end. “I believe Romney's a good man. Loves his family, cares about his faith. But I also beliuve that when he said that 47 percent of the country believe themselves victims, think about who he was talking about. Veterans. Students. Soldiers overseas, fighting for us right now.
He ends: “And I want to fight for them. That's why I'm asking for your vote.”
Final questions, the second-last on China.
"Macs, iphones are all manufactured in China because labour is so cheap. How can we persuade to come back?"
Romney: "The answer is very straightforward. We can compete with anyone, as long as the playing field is level. China has been holding down their currency, cheating. We have to make Ameica attractive for entrepreneurs."
Obama is less optimistic in tone: "There are some jobs that are not going to come back. I want hi-wage-hi-skilled jobs. That's why we have to invest in advanced manufacturing. When we talk about deficits, if we're adding to our def for tax cuts on people who don't need them, and we're cutting down on education for the people who will invent things - we will lose that race."
Blake Hounshell, the Managing Editor of Foreign Policy magazine, is astonished.
Hey Zeus that Romney meltdown on Libya was amazing.
— Blake Hounshell (@blakehounshell) October 17, 2012
A great line from Obama. “The suggestion that anybody in my team would play politics or mislead, is offensive, Governor. That's not what we do. That's not what I do.”
But now, in what is perhaps the deftest political move of the campaign, and certainly the pivotal moment of the debate, Obama lays a trap for Mitt Romney, talking about a speech he gave in the Rose Garden the day after the debate where he referred to the Benghazi attack as “terrorist.”
“Can we have that for the record?” says a triumphant Romney. “Can we have on the record that he said that?”
Obama doesn't even have to spring is trap himself. As Romney advances on Crowley, Obama sits back, with a grin on his face like the Cheshire cat.
“He did say that, actually,” says Crowley. Romney blusters and recovers, but his confidence is shot.
Libya question. “Who was it denied the requested extra security at the embassies?” This is the danger question for Obama, but he fields it deftly.
“Noone is more concerned about the safety of our ambassadors than I am,” says Obama. He claims to have given an instruction to 'beef up' the embassy security. He promises to “find out what happens, and everybody will be held accountable.”
“You don't turn national security in to a political issue, he says to Romney, attacking him for sending the press release on the day of the embassy attacks.
“I think the President just said correctly that the buck does stop at his desk, and he takes responsibility for what happened,” says Romney snidely. “ But I find it more troubling that the day after the assassination, when apparently we didn't know what happened, the President flies to Las Vegas for a political fundraiser. … These actions, taken by a President, have symbolic significance.”
“This was an attack by terrorists, and it calls into question the President's whole policy in the Middle East,” he says, echoing Paul Ryan's words, “what we are witnessing on our TV screens is the unravelling of the Obama foreign policy.”
But attacking him for attending a fundraiser is a low blow.
“Mr President, have you looked at your pension?” Romney outbursts. “Have you looked at your pension? You have investments in Chinese companies too.” The two are up in each others' faces again. “I haven't looked at my pension recently, says Obama, “it's not as big as yours, it doesn't take as long.”
The candidates are sniping at each other hard now, both shouting at once.
"Let's speak to the issue of self-deportation," Crowley says to Romney. "No. No, no," he answers tetchily.
New question for Romney, on immigration. "Let me step back and tell you what I want to do broadly. This is a nation of immigrants. We welcome people coming as immigrants. We welcome legal immigrants. I want it to be streamlined, I want it to be clear. I also think that we should give green cards to people who graduate with skills that we need. People around the world who gradiate in science and math get a green card stapled to their diploma," he answers.
"I will not grant amnesty to those who have come here illegally. I will not give drivers licences to those here illegaly. The kids of those who come here illegally, those kids should have a pathway to become a resident."
"We need to fix a broken immigration system, and I've done everything I can on my own to do so," says the President. "I've sought assistance from congress too. We want to streamline the immigration system. ... We do have to deal with our border, so we've put more border patrol on than at any time in history, but if we're going after people who are here illegally, we should do it smartly. Go after criminals."
The next question is on the differences between Bush and Romney, from a supposedly-undecided voter who starts with "I fear Republicans"...
"Bush never suggested turning medicare into a voucher - Bush embraced comprehensive immigration reform," answers Obama.
A question about equal pay for women is hijacked by Twitter for an unfortunate turn of phrase by the Governor, in which he claimed to have "binders full of women". The phrase immediately floods the social networking site.
Has Internet made @romneysbinder?
— Andrew Kaczynski (@BuzzFeedAndrew) October 17, 2012
The Washington Post's Ezra Klein is unimpressed by Romney's tax promises.
Yes, I heard what Romney said about his tax plan. And the numbers don't work. Math matters.
— Ezra Klein (@ezraklein) October 17, 2012
Romney is standing very awkwardly as Obama plays the Big Bird card, about Romney's proposed cutting of PBS. Obama is certainly winning the body-language war. Crowley is asking Romney questions and he's standing in front of her, arms held in front of him, like a schoolboy being ticked off by his headmistress, while Obama looks relaxed and happy.
Candy Crowley is the best moderator so far. She's allowing a lively - very, very lively - debate, but taking no nonsense from the candidates either, and favouring neither of them.
A tax question for Romney, on child tax credit and education credits. Are they important to him? "I want to bring the rates down, and simplify the tax code, and get middle income taxpayers to have lower taxes," he says. But how is he planning to do it?
"No capital gains tax on anyone earning under $200,000," he promises. But how is he going to pay for it?
Obama's up, and he's echoing Romney on cutting taxes on the middle classes, and promising tax cuts on small businesses. "But if we're serious about reducing the deficit," he says, "we've also got to make sure that the wealthy do a little bit more." Every Democrat watching is wishing he'd turn to Romney and ask one question: "How, Governor Romney, are you going to pay for it?"
Price of gas is the question.
"Very little of what Governor Romney just said was true," says Obama, attacking Romney's proposal of coal as an energy alternative. That's far further than Obama ever went in the last debate in terms of attacking the arguments of his opponent. Romney's on the attack as well. "That's not what you've done in the last 4 years. "Not true governor Romney."
Both candidates are now standing. Are they going to fight? Romney tries to interrupt, Obama talks over him: "what you're saying is just not true."
One thing is true. This debate is a million, billion miles away from the previous.
“You said I said we should take Detroid bankrupt”, says Romney angrily. “You DID take Detroit through bankruptcy. You did exactly what I recommended!” This is actually a good point. Obama's attack ads, of which – especially in Ohio – there have been a hell of a lot, don't quite go into the complex differences between the two's plans – which was more about exactly how those bankruptcies should be managed.
He smirks at Obama.
“Governor Romney doesnt have a 5-point plan, he has a 1-point plan. That's to make sure people at the top play by different rules.” The President's answer is a slight dodge – but his style, this time, is bang on.
“That detroit answer – way off the mark,” interrupts Romney petulantly. Obama smiles. He knows he's doing better. This is an entirely different President from two weeks ago.
Obama's learned his debate-lessons well. He's looking up, smiling - not Biden-style, but smiling. "It's 100% better," says Debbie Welly, one of the family with whom I'm watching. "So much better."
He's looking Presidential.
First question is on college prospects. "The key thing is to make sure you can get a job when you get out of school," says Romney, deftly moving the question onto his home ground. "I know what it takes to create good jobs again."
"I presume I'm going to be President."
"Your future is bright," says Obama. "I want to build on the 5 million jobs we created in the last 15 months alone. ... I want to build manufacturing jobs. Governor Romney said he wanted to let Detroit go bankrupt..."
The audience are all uncommitted voters - organisers say they hope to get 13 questions in this evening. On previous performance, we'll be lucky to see 8 or 9. Expect the crucial Benghazi Embassy question to come early.
Tie-fans: Barack is wearing dark red, Romney striped blue.
This analysis of poll-bounces after debates by the New York Times' Nate Silver is excellent.
The onus will be on President Obama tonight to improve upon his performance on October 3. The expectations game is a really tough one. On the one hand, Obama has to be more assertive than he was last time in order for Romney not to seem like the more dominant, optimistic and passionate candidate - no more looking down proffessorially and taking notes for the President. However, Obama must also avoid being as aggressive as Joe Biden was in the Vice-Presidential debate in order not to come off as rude or arrogant. This is an incredibly tough tightrope to walk.
The debates are much rawer and unprotected moments for the candidates than the rest of the campaigns. Romney is not to be underestimated. He's charming, quick, and evidently unafraid of abandoning his previous policy positions in order to score debate-points - a luxury an incumbent doesn't have.
It's going to be a tense night for President Obama, which is unfortunate - because the best way for him to win is for him to look like he's enjoying himself. Which, I think, is hard for the President.
This debate is a little different from the last one, as it's formatted as a town hall-style meeting. That means the candidates will be responding from questions from the audience - though microphone cut-offs (as agreed earlier in the depressingly detailed Memorandum of Understanding between the two candidates) will prevent audience members hassling the candidates for answers a la Question Time. The Memorandum provides, among other things, for TV cameras to be "locked in place", though "able to tilt".
Tonight, the candidates will be seated "on director chairs (with backs), before the audience which shall be seated in approximately a horseshoe arrangement as symetrically as possible around the candidates."
The moderator, Candy Crowley, is CNN's chief political correspondent.
Hello and welcome to the New Statesman's live-blog of the second Presidential debate.