7:14 Central Time: Setting up this post, I say "I'm so psyched for this debate!" And Meade says "I think you ought to lower your expectations. I think they will both look good, both look presidential, and there won't be any real change because of this debate." Perhaps. But I think it will have an effect... not because I think Obama has a way to change his image back into something we will love, but because we'll see Romney again, and that seemed to work last time, as people saw that he is not the villain the Obama campaigned tried to make us think he is.
7:33: Someone just asked me what I think will happen, and I said "I think Obama will try to be different, but not that different, because that would be phony. And Romney has the advantage of knowing if he just acts like the person he really is, it will work as a striking contrast to the way the O campaign has portrayed him, which is really what happened last time. I think that will happen again. But O will be more alert and engaged so it won't be so horrible." That's my prediction, anyway. What do you think?
7:57: I'm looking at the gathered throng of "undecided" voters. I don't feel confident that they're really undecided. And I think the moderator, Candy Crowley, favors Obama. But that's the way it always is. The Republican must overcome the disadvantage. ADDED: We're told by CNN's Erin Burnett that these supposedly "undecided" voters "in 2008, overwhelmingly voted for Barack Obama." But they are "dead even split" in this election.
8:08: Both Romney and Obama jump on this poor Epstein kid who's going to college and wants to be able to get a job. Both candidates talk about their economic plans generally. They are both wired. Obama is particularly intense. He wants everyone to know he is awake and alive. I don't know if he can keep that up or if we can take it. Crowley calls Romney "Romley."
8:13: The second question, with Obama going first, is about gas prices, and Obama launches into alternative energy, which seems quite unlikely to help people struggling with the gas prices. This is a great opening for Romney. Romney talks about how oil drilling on federal lands has been reduced under Obama. R is for more drilling and clean coal, and he makes that clear. Candy invites Obama to respond and he accuses Romney of getting the facts wrong. Obama is for oil drilling and even coal plants. Romney, getting his turn, asks Obama a direct question, and both men try to control this time. There's back and forth bickering, and Romney ends up in control of the floor. The tension is extreme!
8:22: Obama says gas prices were lower when he took office because the economy was on the verge of collapse. He's not taking any responsibility for what gas prices are now. In fact, he's kind of taking credit.
8:23: Romney is able to stay relaxed while dominating. Crowley and Obama both seem cranked up and stressed.
8:25: A question about taxes. Romney is clear and focused. Obama's over there on the chair, hunkered down, crouching, oddly. Hey, Jaltcoh is live-blogging. Check it out.
8:31: "Governor Romney, I'm sure you have an answer," Crowley almost snarks. Her bias shows. She prompts Obama, suggesting the substance of the answer. Now, this doesn't really help Obama. It makes Romney look more dominant, and we get the impression that Obama needs a boost. It's actually patronizing.
8:34: When Obama speaks, Romney doesn't go back and sit down. He stands there, eyeing Obama, who seems desperate. Obama yammers quickly in a high, strained voice. I can't believe this is making the people in the audience feel connected and confident.
8:37: Why does Obama go back to the chair? Does he need the rest?
8:37: Romney sits down when an audience member speaks. Obama gets a softball question about women not making as much money as men. Obama repeats a story we've heard before, about his grandmother's career. He tells us about the Lily Ledbetter law, the first law he signed. Romney talks about work he did as Governor. He wanted women in his cabinet and initiated a search and found "binders full of women." He promotes flexible work schedules and generally strengthening the economy, which will help women. When it's Obama's turn, he brings up Lily Ledbetter again, then switches to health care.
8:45: A woman brings up Bush. She's afraid of Republicans because they remind her of Bush. Romney has a 5-point plan — all 5 points differentiate him from Bush. "President Bush had a very different path for a very different time."
8:53: Another question — why did they pick this? — about the stagnant economy. The man basically says: I don't feel so good. Obama rattles off a lot of economic points. I think they picked this question because it gave Obama a chance to show warmth and caring. [ADDED: But Obama didn't take the opportunity. Not that Romney did.]
9:09: Crowley calls on someone named "Carrie" and Obama does a "Hi, Carrie" that sounds gentle and it's obvious he thinks it's a female. But it's a big old guy. "Cary," presumably. And he's got the Libya question. Uh-oh.
9:10: Obama's answer on Libya is all material he's said before. Nothing updated to deal with the newest revelations. Same old talking points. Investigate. Track down the criminals. Romney politicized it. "I am ultimately responsible"... that's new.
9:12: Romney acknowledges that Obama took responsibility "for the failure."
9:16: Obama, yelling, says it's "offensive" to suggest that anyone on his "team" would "play politics." "That's not what we do," he says, making eye contact with Romney, but then he breaks eye contact and looks down. Check the video on this. It's a moment.
9:19: Romney, in command, questions Obama about what he said the day after the attack in the Rose Garden. "You said it was an act of terror?" Romney asks twice. After the first time, Obama says "That's what I said." After the second time, Romney gives him a penetrating look. There's a pause. Romney raises his eyebrows in a way that seems to repeat the question again. "It was not a spontaneous demonstration? Is that what you're saying?" Obama bows his head. His eyes are closed. Obama looks up and with a little smile says: "Please proceed Governor." Romney gestures with his hand. "I wanted to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the President 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi and act of terror." Obama says "Get the transcript," and Crowley helps Obama by saying "He did in fact, sir... He did in fact call it an act of terror. It did as well take 2 weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out, you're correct about that." Jeez, Crowley is way overparticipating! And the audience applauds her!
9:20: Romney got tripped up on a little detail there, so his theatrical presentation fizzled in the end. He stuttered a bit. He should have had the preparation for that moment nailed. Obama lucked out. [ADDED: We're checking the transcript on the Rose Garden speech and the word "terror" (or "terrorist" or "terrorism") is not in it! Am I wrong? That really tripped up Romney, so if he wasn't wrong, I condemn Crowley.][AND: He said "outrageous attack," but certainly nothing like "act of terror."][ALSO: The word "terror" does appear in the full transcript of the remarks, as opposed to the written statement, but not in the context of characterizing the attack in Benghazi, in a more general reference, quoted at 10:21 below. The answer to Romney's question "You said it was an act of terror?" was clearly no, and when Obama bowed his head and looked down, I think he knew he was being deceitful. I imagine he thought: This is what I have to say.]
9:21: Gun control. Obama's talking about the Aurora shootings. He wants "a comprehensive strategy" that includes getting "into these communities and making sure we catch violent impulses before they occur."
9:22: Romney stresses the 2-parent family in response to the gun control question, then shifts to a Fast & Furious presentation. He'd "like to understand" what happened.
9:44: I've gotten behind in the recording after getting distracted by that "act of terror" business. And now, I'm so outraged at Crowley's intrusion to make an incorrect assertion to side with Obama that I can barely pay attention to the rest of this. (But I will keep going and get to the remainder of the material.)
9:47: Obama interrupts Romney — who's talking about competition with China — and he has been interrupting throughout the evening.
9:48: The last question is: "What is the biggest misperception people have about you as a man and as a candidate?" Romney says "his passion" flows from his belief in God. He also ticks through his resume again, which isn't responsive to the question. Ignoring the question is kind of the theme of the night.
9:51: Obama's turn. People think he believes that government creates jobs. "That's not what I believe. I believe in individual initiative."
9:52: Obama brings up the 47% remark, while it's his turn and he's speaking last. Romney can't answer! But Obama didn't make much of it. He said "47%" but didn't dramatize the idea in a memorable way.
9:54: "The most rancorous debate ever" — says the CBS announcer. Presidential debates are changed forever, we're told.
10:03: It's bizarre to think of all the pre-debate commentary about how the town hall format is used to reach out to the individuals in the audience and demonstrate the human connection! It must have been a surreal experience for these poor folks.
10:21: The phrase "acts of terror" does appear in the Rose Garden remarks at one point: "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for." But as Patrick Brennan says at NRO: "One could take that as a reference to acts which include the tragedy in Benghazi, obviously, but there was clearly no effort made to label it an act of terrorism. One reason why this might be: According to U.S. law, acts of terrorism are premeditated. The Obama administration’s line for days following Obama’s Rose Garden statement suggested that the attack wasn’t premeditated." Obama's supporters may want to say this is enough. I don't think so. But what is certainly plain is that Crowley's manipulation of the event was unjustifiable. The bias from the moderator tonight was disgusting. But I'm sure it was worth it to her to squander her reputation to help Obama out of what was a very uncomfortable jam.
10:27: Here's the transcript. Sorry I didn't write anything about the immigration discussion. It's all there in the transcript.
10:37: Even though Romney's big moment got deflated, I think the focus now will be on what exactly is in that transcript, and hair-splitting about "No acts of terror will ever shake" isn't likely to sound compelling, especially as it becomes an occasion for focusing on the 2 weeks of lies/nonsense about the nonexistent demonstrations and the "Innocence of Muslims" video. There's a controversy over what Obama said, and even if there is one way to wriggle out of it, it forces us to spend time on the statements made about the attack, and this should hurt Obama. Whoever "wins" the debate, there's the post-debate discourse, and that must be won too.
10:53: Thanks to all the commenters for keeping the flow of opinion going on the second, third, and fourth pages. I haven't had the time to get in there and read things yet, but I wanted to express my appreciation for your contributions and my pleasure at being able to provide a place where people can talk.