Things got a little testy in Hempstead, NY last night. Mitt Romney arrived with his perfect hair and a self satisfied half smile, that one reserved for those who don't believe the rules apply to them. He stuck his formidable chin out and then took a couple of serious left hooks to it.
Yes, this wasn't the same unprepared Barak Obama who had showed up in Denver. This was the president of the United States of America and he was clearly ready to duke it out.
The former governor of Massachusetts quickly ignored the ground rules his people had agreed to and began to ask direct questions of the president. When Obama tried to answer those questions Romney used the traditional conservative debate tactic of talking louder and longer and ignoring the response, cutting it off whenever he could.
However the president wasn't taking any of his gruff. He drove home his points and began to highlight the Mitt's extreme fuzziness when it comes to details. In response to a question about inequality in pay and jobs for women the governor rambled on about when he was filling out his state cabinet he went to women's groups and received from them many names in "binders." What he didn't say is that he hired any of them and what he'd pay them if he did. In fact the whole binder comment has become the current joke du jur on the net, drawing scathingly sarcastic tweets.
Romney also pleaded ignorance about his investments in Chinese companies and asked Obama if he knew what companies his retirement portfolio had invested in. Obama seemed to ignore the question rather than coming back at the governor with an attack on Bain's investments when Romney ran the place. It was one of his few lapses, although some commentators lamented he didn't do a good enough job of connecting Mitt to George W. Bush.
The whole night seemed to turn decidedly in the president's favor when Romney made a fool of himself on the issue of Libya. First he was painted as injecting politics into a tragedy he knew little of and of being unpresidential for doing so. Then came the coup de grace. Apparently unaware of Obama's statement calling the attack on the consulate an act of terror, the governor claimed Obama, in the immediate aftermath of the murders, failed to call it a terrorist attack. Obama pounced immediately. He confronted the governor with the falsehood, or to be charitable, misinformation, and told him he'd called it just that in a Rose Garden speech. Romney, thinking he'd caught Obama in lie repeatedly asked the president something along the lines of, "You're saying that you said that in the Rose Garden?" Obama advised him to read the transcript, but Romney kept droning on, repeating the question again and again. Finally the exasperated moderator, Candy Crowley had to tell him that the president had indeed said exactly that. As Mitt Romney turned from her and toward the camera he had a stunned look on his face. It was as if he'd just realized that he'd confused carbon monoxide with carbon dioxide and that trees don't require, or even like the former. He never recovered.
Obama got in the last shot. He finally called into play that whole "47% of Americans consider themselves victims and don't take responsibility for their lives" speech by Romney to his big dollar contributors. It wasn't a knockout punch, but it was a staggering blow and because time was up there could be no counter.
The CNN instant poll showed 46% of those surveyed felt the president won the debate as opposed to 39% who thought Romney did. A similar CBS poll called it 37% to 30% for Obama.
Barak Obama didn't win the election last night, but he certainly didn't lose it. In fact only the hard core conservative hacks on FOX will claim Romney came out ahead in that Hofstra University auditorium. Everyone else will know the truth. Round two went to the president.
There are less than three weeks and only one debate left to go. The word frantic won't even begin to describe the emotions and actions of both campaigns in the little time that remains. It is still too close to call. Both camps know it. Stand by for a media blitz the likes of which the world has never seen as desperate donors rise to their feet in the grandstands screaming at their respective jockeys to, "Use the whip man, for God's sake use the whip!"