Tonight's debate between Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama was in many ways deeply different from the first debate between both men. Both men came out more evenly matched, traded attacks more vigorously, and the high volume of the attacks.
And much of the reaction post-debate seems to have declared it a draw, with CBS' instant poll giving President Obama a narrower victory than Vice President Joe Biden enjoyed in their instant poll last week (Romney scored a much more lopsided victory on questions related to the economy, dominating by 65-35). CNN flipped from the Vice Presidential debate, giving Obama a 7 point victory over Romney, with 46 percent saying Obama won and 39 percent saying Romney won.
At the same time, the CNN poll showed wide advantages for Romney on questions relating to the economy and health care, confirming the CBS poll's numbers. Only Frank Luntz's focus group on Fox - comprised mostly of former Obama voters - gave Romney a lopsided victory unequivocally.
Responses from pundits were also unpredictable. Charles Krauthammer gave the President the victory on points, as did Ramesh Ponnoru of National Review. Ari Fleischer declared the debate a draw, as did Ron Fournier of National Journal. MSNBC's anchors unanimously declared Obama the winner, while Sean Hannity gave Mitt Romney a solid victory.
Yet one element was virtually uncontested by everyone - this was a debate where rudeness was the norm, rather than the exception. Moderator Candy Crowley herself openly said she didn't understand the "We hate each other" vibe between the candidates. And to quote political scientist Scott Pelley, who was interviewed by CBS News following the debate:
“We have never seen anything like that in presidential history,” CBS News anchor Scott Pelley said following the debate. “They turned every question from the audience into an attack on the other.”
Pelley called it the “most rancorous presidential debate ever.”
Whether this rancorous attitude will do much to endear either candidate to swing voters remains to be seen. Certainly, it may serve to blunt the President's likability numbers, and given the closeness of the victory, Obama may not make up as much ground against Romney as he might like.
On the flip side, Romney frequently looked testy throughout the debate, and, like his running mate Paul Ryan, did not land a decisive comeback against President Obama. Romney questioned Obama about his handling of the crisis in Libya, when moderator Candy Crowley corrected him mid-sentence as to whether the President called Libya an "act of terror."
Obama pounced. "Can you speak up a little louder, Candy?" he asked. The audience could be heard with audible applause.
But shortly after the debate even Crowley herself admitted that Romney was "right in the main" on the issue but he chose the "wrong word" in the debate.
The topic of foreign policy will be debated in the third Presidential debate next Monday, and this time in much greater depth. Romney's focus on winning economic questions (and, in some cases, actively engaging the President on his economic record) might have paid more dividends in the long term, given that economic issues will not come up in any future debates.