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
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
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.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
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?
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2152 GMT (0552 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2121 GMT (0521 HKT)
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1242 GMT (2042 HKT)
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
August 16, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
August 17, 2014 -- Updated 1523 GMT (2323 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 2146 GMT (0546 HKT)
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2226 GMT (0626 HKT)
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1315 GMT (2115 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1505 GMT (2305 HKT)
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
August 14, 2014 -- Updated 2024 GMT (0424 HKT)
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
August 15, 2014 -- Updated 1056 GMT (1856 HKT)
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2035 GMT (0435 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
August 18, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
August 13, 2014 -- Updated 2308 GMT (0708 HKT)
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
August 12, 2014 -- Updated 1525 GMT (2325 HKT)
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT