Short answer: Obama rebounded strongly in this debate. Romney was prepared and did as well as he did in the first one, but Obama's performance was so much better than last time, he gets the win.
Mitt Romney got the first question (from a college student asking about the availability of a job after he graduates). He walked over to "Jeremy" and spoke directly to him. Barack Obama also walked to the student and used the answer to attack Romney on wanting to "bankrupt Detroit."
Candy Crowley busted the rules right off the bat by asking a follow-up question - what about short-term jobs - which both men used as an excuse to get on each other.
Twice in the first two questions Obama said "Governor Romney's plan …" and then described it. Romney missed the opportunity, at least in the early going, to say "I'll talk about my plan, why don't you tell us what you plan to do?"
Obama speaking directly to Romney - "you stood in front of a coal plant and said 'this plant kills' now you're a big coal guy." That will make Obama's supporters very happy.
Twenty minutes in, both are doing well, both are making their points, both are performing up to their capabilities.
At 23 minutes in, Romney backed Candy Crowley down and answered a charge by Obama in spite of her trying to effectively say, if you want to use up your two minutes on the next question that's up to you. He didn't so he kept going.
Romney's answer on the question of taxes on middle class families (whom Romney referred to as "middle income" families) was just about perfect. Obama's answer was good, too (98 percent will see no tax increase, but the GOP is holding them hostage to protect the tax rates of the top two percent.
The Obama team has obviously given him one fact with which to attack Romney on each of the major issues - jobs, coal, and taxes so far. Good technique because he doesn't look like "Belly Laugh Biden," but he is making his points. As an example, Obama's attack on Romney during the follow-up on taxes was very effective.
Question from young woman about pay disparity went to Obama first and he talked about his mom - very good approach, but he ran out of stuff before he ran out of time so he pivoted to Pell Grants ("to make education easier for women") which seemed to be off-point.
You don't HAVE to use up all your time on every question.
Romney's answer was surprisingly facile - including an anecdote about reaching out to women's groups to staff his cabinet and senior staff as Governor. He pivoted to unemployment and how it affects women.
In the follow-up Obama talked about "health care choices women are making." He didn't want to use the word "abortion" because Biden got him into trouble with the Catholic Church last week by misstating the law as it affects Catholic schools and hospitals. Romney countered with saying Obama was wrong in saying Romney wanted to deny women contraception.
A woman asked a question of Romney as to how he would differ from George W. Romney was ready for it and ticked off five significant differences including saying Obama was right about the deficits under the Bush years but then said, "but then [President Obama] doubled the deficits during his term."
I suspect Crowley wanted this question to make news, but Romney was ready for it and if he didn't hit it out of the park, he certainly hit it into the gap for extra bases.
This was a question that Obama should have been able to answer in his sleep - like during the last debate - but he struggled with it and ended up centering on China trade policy; something that is not a typical discussion at America dinner tables on a daily basis.
At the 2/3 point - at 10 o'clock, it seemed to me that Romney was more positive and … dare we say it … more specific than Obama. I understand I have a rooting interest in this, but I think this will have done nothing to change the track of the campaign.
The Benghazi question came up at 10:10. "Who was responsible for refusing enhanced security?" Obama had to take the question first, and didn't answer that particular question other to say that the foreign service represents him around the world. As he did with every question, he ended by talking about what Romney did wrong - that press release right after the attack.
Romney did a good job in suggesting the President did the right thing by taking responsibility (even if he has not) and said, in effect, these kinds of things will happen. But, then he pointed out that the next day Obama went to Las Vegas for a fund raiser.
Candy Crowley kept saying she wanted to move things along and get more people to ask questions, but she asked at least one follow-up to each question.
I'm not certain why Crowley chose the gun question to so late in the program. Both men appeared to be tiring and there's not much to say - neither one was going to say he was anti-Second Amendment and neither did.
90 minutes is way long enough for one of these events. Allowing it to run nearly 10 minutes over didn't add anything. I was as tired as the candidates were. In fact, by the last question (10:35) I was flipping back and forth between the debate and the Tigers/Yankees game.
As I said at the top, I thought Barack Obama did so much better that any fair viewer had to give him the win. But, that's not the big question. The big question is: Will this debate restart the support for Obama that has been racing away like the tide running out?
Or, did Romney do well enough to maintain a newfound confidence in him that caused such a significant shift in the polls?
We'll know that answer to that by the end of the week.
Just in time for the next debate.