Neither President Barack Obama nor Gov. Mitt Romney earned a total victory Tuesday night at the second of three scheduled presidential debates, Orange County political watchers said.
The candidates met at Hofstra University and responded to questions from a moderator and from audience members at the New York college.
Obama supporters hoped their candidate would regain the momentum he had going into the Oct. 3 debate, in which he gave a lackluster performance. Fans of Romney were eager to see their man earn another victory.
Republican Nick Wilson, of Lake Forest, watched the debate at a Tea Party viewing party in Dana Point.
"All things considered, I think that Romney again walks away the victor, but this debate was much closer than the first," he said.
The town-hall format did not benefit either candidate, Wilson said.
"All of the sitting down, standing up, walking around, and strange rules about answering questions left both Romney and President Obama looking a bit lost and flustered," he said.
But the questions were substantial, and touched on a wide range of issues, Wilson said.
"I felt that the questions asked were very much to the point, and the subject matter was very unexpected to the candidates," Wilson said. "Romney and President Obama both had practiced answers that they tried very hard to make fit the questions being asked, but there was very little new that either had to say."
But the candidates still tried to answer using talking points voters have heard before, he added.
Romney performed better during the debate than Obama on a number of the issues, Wilson said.
Overall, Romney's strength was in "answering directly," leaving Obama mired on "long speeches made up of talking points," Wilson said.
Romney scored points explaining his stance on illegal immigration, Wilson said.
"I think that Romney did a good job of explaining how his policy would reflect a more moderate view of [illegal immigration], even as President Obama tried to paint him as an extremist," Wilson said.
Other highlights for the former governor were when he sparred with the president on Libya and domestic oil policy, as well as when he pointed out that the top 5 percent of taxpayers pay 60 percent of [federal income] taxes, Wilson said.
Romney's willingness to ignore the debate rules and speak directly to Obama engendered some of the most "memorable moments" of the debate, Wilson said.
Pertinent questions about the rising price of gas, food and higher education went unanswered by both candidates, Wilson said.
Presidential debate moderator Candy Crowley, of CNN, did not improve the event, he said.
"She kept interrupting both candidates as if she was more concerned about the question askers than the actual answers," he said.
Obama's attempt to "remake his image as a centrist" is unlikely to succeed with the voting public, Wilson said.
"The president clearly used this debate as an opportunity to energize his base, and not to appeal to the average citizen," Wilson added.
Los Alamitos resident JM Ivler also watched the debate. Ivler, who leans left on the political spectrum, agreed the rematch was a close one. He gave the edge to Obama.
"The debate was a bit of a wash," he said. Still, "it was a substantial improvement by the president."
Obama scored points by defending his staff from criticism over the Libya attack and correcting Romney's assertion that Obama did not call the event an "act of terror" in his initial address from the Rose Garden, said Ivler.
“You could see it in [Romney's] eyes—that was his big 'gotcha' moment. But at that moment, Romney went from 'gotcha' to a deer caught in the headlights," Ivler said. "It was a massive faux pas. They were going to try to get Obama on terrorism and Libya, but it all came crashing down.”
The president also improved on his first debate performance by assuming a more confrontational stance, Ivler said.
"I think what we saw in the first debate was a man who didn’t want to be confrontational. [Obama] really went out of his way to avoid confrontation. That obviously didn’t work very effectively," Ivler said. "This time, he didn’t let Romney make any accusations that weren’t true without giving the other side…this time Obama didn’t roll over. He didn’t lower his eyes. He didn’t lower his head."
Romney, on the other hand, interrupted the president, smirked and rolled his eyes, said Ivler.
“I think Obama showed his presidential character greater than Romney did," Ivler said.
The defining moment of the second presidential debate for Ivler came near the end when Romney alluded to his now-infamous remarks about 47 percent of America, Ivler said, likening the moment to "the sound of a coffin lid slowly shutting."
"Obama didn’t let it pass. He attacked it. He reminded everybody what Romney really thinks and what he said when he thought nobody was watching,” said Ivler. “Romney isn’t one of us no matter how much he tries to be. He is one of the 1 percent.”
Both candidates failed to demonstrate the "'I feel your pain' empathy" often attributed to former President Bill Clinton, Ivler said.
“It’s Romney’s weakness and Obama’s strength, but he didn’t leverage it sufficiently,” Ivler said.
A CNN/ORC International poll taken after the debate ended Tuesday night showed 46 percent of respondents handing the victory to Obama, compared to 39 percent for Romney.
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