Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

How Obama aced the comeback

By Alan Schroeder, Special to CNN
updated 7:17 PM EDT, Wed October 17, 2012
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
updated 12:26 PM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT