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Editorial: Obama bounces back with substance, style

President Barack ObamRepublican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney participate second presidential debate HofstrUniversity Hempstead N.Y. Tuesday Oct. 16

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney participate in the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

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Updated: November 18, 2012 7:02AM



Tuesday’s debate was President Barack Obama’s to win.

Or lose.

After a performance in the first debate that was universally panned, there were just two possible outcomes for Obama on Tuesday: further damage to his campaign or the beginning of a recovery.

Tuesday was a reset for Obama.

The president came out strong, with a powerful and detailed vision for the future. He spoke clearly and forcefully to a room full of 82 undecided voters in New York and the nation.

From the start, Obama was in command, putting Gov. Mitt Romney on the defensive, calling out Romney’s mischaracterizations of the governor’s long-standing policies and revealing the hollowness of Romney’s tax plan.

Unlike in the first debate, Obama refused to let Romney’s shifting statements about his tax plan, about coal, about the federal government’s rescue of the auto industry stand unchallenged.

Two weeks ago, we urged voters to look past style and focus on substance in these presidential debates. That was before the first debate when Obama won on substance but Romney clearly won the debate. We now see the power of style.

Romney emerged the winner because he appeared to embody the qualities you want in a president — decisiveness, energy and toughness. He exuded confidence, telling voters he’s the guy to follow.

In contrast, Obama was listless and didn’t fight back, reinforcing a nagging fear that he’s letting the Republicans in Congress bully him and that he lacks a plan for the next four years.

On Tuesday, Obama turned that around.

The town-hall format was tailor-made for a focus on charm, charisma and the ability to connect — leadership qualities that are arguably as important as a candidate’s command of the issues. The real winners have both.

Obama was strongest when he made clear that Romney’s plan to lower tax rates for all cannot possibly be revenue neutral, that inevitably it will lead to a greater deficit or tax increases for everyone but the wealthiest. Romney says he’ll make up for the lost revenue by ending deductions and loopholes and promised not to reduce the tax burden for the wealthy.

But when asked specifically how he’d pull that off, Romney was vague. That’s on purpose: there aren’t enough deductions and credits to even come close.

Romney’s strongest moments came when he spoke about the poor state of the economy over the last four years. A voter who picked Obama four years ago said he wasn’t sure what Obama had done to earn his vote. Romney spoke of high unemployment, a growing budget deficit and a failure to institute a plan to reform Social Security and Medicare.

“He has tried but his policies don’t work,” Romney said. “He’s great as a speaker but he has a record.”

In turn, Obama laid out the pledges he has kept — middle class and small business tax cuts, ending the war in Iraq, saving the auto industry, Wall Street reform.

He drew the sharpest contrast here, saying Romney would keep his commitments as well.

Romney pledged not to raise taxes, “so he won’t ask for a dime from millionaires and billionaires so we can invest in education.” Ditto for repealing Obamacare, rolling back Wall Street reforms, undermining Medicare and trying to drill our way to energy independence. “This is not the kind of leadership you’ll need.”

The Onion, the satirical newspaper, offered up a spot-on tweet Tuesday: “Obama Excited to Participate in First Debate.”

It wasn’t exactly a do-over but it was certainly a restart.



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