While he cannot lay claim to the moniker "Comeback Kid," President Barack Obama was able to stage a rhetorical rally in the second presidential debate, setting the stage for a decisive showdown with Governor Mitt Romney in their final encounter, scheduled for Monday night.
Watch full video of the second debate embedded below.
Here are five factors that aided the President in "Round Two":
1. Obama "answered the bell" aggressively last night.
Painfully aware of the drubbing he took at the hands of Romney in the opening debate, Obama was determined to avoid a repeat "non-performance." He was able to successfully employ a "rope-a-nope" strategy, contesting virtually every point raised by his opponent by "just saying no."
2. Romney replaced assertions with questions.
While the challenger had some impressive moments in reminding the audience of the poor record belonging to the incumbent, Romney mistakenly chose to question the President instead of assertively making his points.
It invited the President to simply deny, deflect, or negate any charge presented—conceding rhetorical leverage to the Chief Executive.
3. "Undecided" does not mean "unbiased."
Last night's "town hall format" mandated that The Gallup Organization select 80 "undecided" voters to submit questions—including a woman named Susan Katz. When called upon, Ms. Katz said she was undecided, then launched a decidedly anti-GOP diatribe toward Romney, disguised as a question:
"I do attribute much of America's economic and international problems to the failings and missteps of the Bush Administration. Since you and President Bush are Republicans, I fear a return of those years should you win this election. What is the biggest difference between you and George W. Bush, and how do you differentiate yourself from George W. Bush?"
In other words, Ms. Katz essentially said:
"I think all you Republicans are alike...I don't like George W. Bush, and I have my doubts about you, so tell me why I should like you!"
Undecided? Maybe. Unbiased? No!
4. Candy was not dandy!
Rather than simply call on audience members to ask their questions, moderator Candy Crowley of CNN could not resist the temptation to "refine" some their inquiries; "correct" Romney's behavior ("If I could have you sit down, Governor Romney"); and "throw a lifeline" to Obama during the most contentious discussion of the debate.
When Romney asked Obama for clarification on what was said in the Rose Garden the day after the killing of four Americans in Libya, the incumbent weakly responded, "Please proceed, Governor." At that juncture, Crowley inserted herself into the exchange, mistakenly saying that the President's Rose Garden statement described the killings as "an act of terrorism."
In fact, the President simply said on that occasion that the United States would always oppose acts of terrorism—not that the killings in Libya were acts of terrorism.
Later, in a post-debate appearance on her own network, Crowley tried to "walk back" her intervention, saying Romney was "right in the main, I just think he picked the wrong word."
Crowley took the wrong action by deliberately intervening at that critical moment.
5. Libya looms even larger.
With the final debate focused on foreign policy, look for even more discussion on Libya -- something that does not bode well for Obama. While the President may have bested his challenger Tuesday night (courtesy of the "moderator assist" outlined above), more scrutiny of the killings in Bengazi will not be welcomed by the Obama Campaign.
Expect even more coverage of the Administration's "inconsistencies" concerning Libya, putting Team Obama in the difficult position of having to explain this tragic debacle yet again, and setting up a curious dynamic for the debate finale'.
Simply stated, the Obama/Crowley interaction may have proved to be a winning combination Tuesday, but it may very well have sewed the seeds of defeat for the President on election night.
Such an outcome depends, of course, on a much better debate performance from Romney next Monday night. He must avoid timid interrogatives and instead make bold assertions—otherwise, he may end up questioning himself and his tactics for the rest of his life.