Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

How Obama aced the comeback

By Alan Schroeder, Special to CNN
October 17, 2012 -- Updated 2317 GMT (0717 HKT)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and U.S. President Barack Obama shake hands following the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, on Tuesday, October 16, moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2012/10/03/politics/gallery/first-presidential-debate/index.html'>See the best photos of the first presidential debate.</a> Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and U.S. President Barack Obama shake hands following the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, on Tuesday, October 16, moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley. See the best photos of the first presidential debate.
HIDE CAPTION
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
14 debate 1016
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
The second presidential debate
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alan Schroeder: President Obama delivered a comeback performance in second debate
  • Schroeder: Obama connected with the audience, Romney less so
  • He says Romney's defining moments were too frequently negative
  • Schroeder: Substantively and stylistically, Romney operated in Obama's shadow

Editor's note: Alan Schroeder, a professor in the School of Journalism at Northeastern University, is the author of "Presidential Debates: 50 Years of High-Risk TV."

(CNN) -- So it looks like President Obama got the message. In his second debate with Mitt Romney, the president delivered a comeback performance that will stand as a model for future debaters of how to right a listing ship. Obama was as good in Hempstead as he was bad in Denver. In fact, this may have been the finest debate of his career and just at the moment when he needed it most.

CNN Poll: Nearly half say Obama won showdown

Navigating the tricky shoals of the town hall format, the president laid out a persuasive case for re-election, point by point, drawing sharp contrasts with his opponent while avoiding rudeness. Obama's arguments were not always as succinctly stated as they needed to be, and he too often strayed far from the topic at hand. But by the end of the debate, he had checked off pretty much every item on his list of "Things I Should Have Done in Denver."

Alan Schroeder
Alan Schroeder

It was Obama the community organizer who showed up, a man with a message to sell and an audience to sell it to. His interaction with the participants was confident, engaged and energetic, all the qualities he had failed to muster in Round 1. He appeared to draw strength from the 82 citizens on the stage, strength that grew as the evening progressed.

At times Romney seemed taken aback by this fresh incarnation of the debater he had bested two weeks ago. Both substantively and stylistically, Romney operated in Obama's shadow in this match, second banana to the president's leading man. Clearly this was not the role Romney intended to play.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



Romney's defining moments were too frequently negative. His attempts to directly confront the president carried plenty of dramatic charge, but they didn't quite play out the way they must have in rehearsal. These maneuvers left an impression more of petulance than leadership.

'Binders full of women' raises brows

The thing that really gets Romney exercised in these debates is when he thinks he's not getting his due, which means he wastes far too much time demanding another minute or the final say or a chance to go back to something from a previous answer. Romney may believe this assertiveness makes him look strong and in command. More likely it reinforces a negative perception that the candidate needs to dispel: that of a plutocrat grabbing every last crumb he thinks he deserves. The town hall debate was a particularly inappropriate setting for Romney to display this side of himself.

Ohio Focus Group on debate high moments
Ohio Focus Group on low points of debate
Zingers from second presidential debate

Romney's chief problem was that he did not connect to the audience as effectively as Obama did. This became apparent every time Romney began a response with "I appreciate that" or "that's an important question," words that signaled his discomfort with many of the topics the voters wanted to discuss, like equal pay for women, banning assault weapons or immigration.

Obama's big moments were more positive, especially, and unexpectedly, on the topic of Libya. Staring daggers at his opponent, the president said it was "offensive" for Romney to suggest that the White House had sought political gain from the murder of an American ambassador and three others. When moderator Candy Crowley backed up Obama's version of events over Romney's, the president got off one of the few funny lines of the night: "Could you say that a little louder?"

Opinion: Obama bounces back, dominates debate

Obama also delivered a clever rejoinder in a back-and-forth about the candidates' personal finances. After the president brought up his rival's overseas investments, Romney cited Obama's own holdings: "Have you looked at your pension?"

"It's not as big as yours," came the answer, "so I don't look at it that often." Advantage, Obama.

One of Romney's lowest points came when a woman in the audience asked him to differentiate between himself and former President George W. Bush. The governor's response might have been written by the staff of "Saturday Night Live:" "President Bush and I are different people and these are different times," he said. "That's why my five-point plan is so different from what he would have done." Not exactly a sound bite for the ages.

Before this debate, I wondered whether Obama would acknowledge the elephant in the room: his shoddy performance in Round 1. Would he make a joke about it, or tell a cute story about what Michelle had said that night? Turns out he didn't need to. Obama's performance spoke for itself.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alan Schroeder.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT