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Even after debates, the pop culture shrapnel continues

President Barack Obamleans down greet GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s grandsafter third presidential debate Monday BocRatFla.  |  Rick

President Barack Obama leans down to greet GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s grandson after the third presidential debate Monday in Boca Raton, Fla. | Rick Wilking~AP

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Updated: November 25, 2012 11:45AM

After the third and final presidential debate in Del Boca Vista — sorry, Boca Raton — on Monday night, we had the traditional Gathering of the Families onstage, with lots of hugs and happy handshakes all around.

Sweetest moment: President Obama leaning down to talk to Mitt Romney’s grandson.

Most cynical response to that sweetest moment after I Tweeted about it: “Yeah Rich, that’s the closest that little kid’s ever gonna get to an actual president.”

Such was the cycle of debate watching, debate debating and debate recapping. Tens of millions of Americans watched the four debates, and through the miracle of Twitter and other social-networking devices, we were able to share our thoughts through Instant Techno Democracy.

Seriously, it was pretty great.

Now let’s take a look at the winners, the losers, the pop culture shrapnel and the moments we’ll never forget.

Biggest winner: Romney. One can argue Obama tied or was the winner of the last two debates, but those close decisions did little to erase the shocking TKO he suffered in the first debate. Going into that matchup, the pollsters and the pundits told us Romney was on the ropes, and a poor performance could spell doom for his campaign. But the Mittster came out fighting, while the president gazed downward, fumbled with his answers and looked as if he’d rather be having a Nicorette in the Rose Garden.

Best debate-inspired “SNL” moment: An unannounced Tom Hanks played a Town Hall questioner who was on his cellphone telling his buddies he was about to go on TV, hung up, took out a piece of paper, fumbled with it, tried on two pairs of reading glasses, bragged his question was going to blow people away, fumbled some more with the piece of paper and finally read his question: “Libya?”

Most surprising diversion: We spent a week talking about Big Bird after Romney declared he liked the oversized talking yellow fowl — and would fire him first chance he got.

Most memorable lines:

5. “With all due respect that’s a bunch of malarkey!” — Joe Biden

4. “I think the vice president knows very well that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.” — Paul Ryan

3. “This is a bunch of stuff.” — Joe Biden

2. “Binders full of women.” — Mitt Romney

1. “Horses and bayonets.” — Barack Obama

Wackiest theory: After the president’s lackluster showing in Denver, Al Gore blamed it on the altitude: “Obama arrived in Denver at 2 p.m. today, just a few hours before the debate started. Romney did his debate prep in Denver. When you go to 5,000 feet, and you only have a few hours to adjust . . .”

Even more hilariously, Gore’s interviewers chimed in with, “Exactly!” and, “That’s interesting!”

Yes. And it’s bonkers.

It’s the Peter Berg Show! In the final debate, each candidate made a reference to a Peter Berg-helmed work. “The question is not a game of Battleship,” said the president when discussing the size of the Navy, while Romney said he had “clear eyes” on how to deal with Russia. The Mittster was sneaking in a reference to the “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose” mantra from “Friday Night Lights” he’d been using. Romney’s campaign was even selling bracelets with the phrase, drawing a protest from Berg, who wrote a letter saying he had created the slogan and was “not thrilled” Romney had “plagiarized this expression.”

Picture and picture: In the first debate, CNN went almost exclusively with a split-screen shot of the candidates — a choice a number of other outlets picked up and went with as the night progressed. So instead of the occasional reaction shots of candidates, they were on camera virtually the entire time, which only served to underscore the president’s distracted, disengaged body language. By the third debate, Obama was so hyper-aware he was onscreen he was laser-focused, like one of those intense poker guys at the World Series of Poker Main Event.

Tiresome gimmick: Enough with the folksy anecdotes about individuals that just happen to reside in key locales: “Why just the other day I was talking to Molly Undecided of Swing State, Ohio, at the Electoral Diner, and she said to me . . .”

Make up your minds! The news channels loved those gatherings of Undecideds. Just once I wish somebody had gathered together a bunch of Decideds to see if anyone ever changes their mind after watching a debate.

The return of the Joker: Joe Biden’s too-white teeth and maniacal laugh had Bruce Wayne saying, “I thought I put that guy away!”

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