HEMPSTEAD, NY - President Obama was noticeably sharper and more aggressive in tonight's debate, as both candidates exchanged barbs throughout the evening. Mitt Romney excelled by focusing on jobs, jobs, jobs, and repeatedly forcing voters to notice the canyon between Obama's rhetoric and his record. Romney's strongest answer came after Obama attempted to apply lipstick to his failed record in office. Romney unleashed a torrent of facts that pushed back forcefully against each and every one of those claims. It should be cut into an ad as soon as possible. Throughout the night, Romney was asked questions from the audience that could have caused significant trip-ups: Outsourcing, guns (a point on which moderator Candy Crowley followed up twice), and equal pay for women. Romney parried them skillfully. His biggest missed opportunity came, ironically, on Libya -- a subject on which he was unduly vague and allowed the president to offer an indignant response. There are facts that Romney could have raised, but he pulled punches. A mistake, in my view. We'll see if he does so again during the foreign policy debate. As expected, Obama rehearsed a series of attacks on Mitt Romney, many of which have been debunked. The false "$5 Trillion tax cut" line. The "Four Pinocchios" outsourcing claim. Etc, etc. All in all, this setting -- particularly considering the questions asked -- favored Obama, but Romney came prepared. Obama's energy and tone were much improved over Denver, but Romney stood his ground throughout. Grading on the curve established in Denver, Obama had a good night, but Romney had a pretty solid night, as well. We'll see flash polls and the like, but I can't imagine either campaign is particularly disappointed in their man's performance. Next Monday could be a barn-burner, as the two men will be sitting right next to each other at a desk for 90 minutes. I fear we'll hear even more interrupting, one of the most grating elements of both tonight's exchange and the Vice Presidential debate.
UPDATE - Both campaigns were spinning in the spin room at least ten minutes before the debate (which ran over time) had concluded. How does one spin answers one didn't hear?
UPDATE II - Based on early Twitter returns, partisans on both sides are pleased with their guy. Fox News' Brit Hume says he thinks Obama got the better of the evening as a whole. Numerous analysts suggesting the debate is unlikely to dramatically shake up the direction of the race. Krauthammer gives it to Obama "on points."
UPDATE III - CBS News' snap poll shows very split opinions on tonight's winner: Obama 37, Romney 30, Tie 33 -- with a four-point margin of error. Basically a wash. You know what's not a wash? These CBS respondents were asked who won on the economy. That result was Romney 65, Obama 34. Smiles for Team Mitt here.
UPDATE IV - Democratic strategist Joe Trippi: "I don't think it's going to change the dynamics of the race."
UPDATE V - Frank Luntz's focus group on undecided voters are giving Romney rave reviews. An older, whiter, more male crowd, but hey...guess who the undecideds are? Major movement to the GOP ticket among this group of uncommitteds.
UPDATE VI - Ari Fleischer notes that over the three debates thus far, Democrats have gotten roughly nine full minutes of additional talk time. "Needs to be fixed," he says.
UPDATE VII - Whoa, WaPo fact-checks Obama (and by extension, Crowley on this point) over Libya and terrorism: "He did not say “terrorism”—and it took the administration days to concede that that it an “act of terrorism” that appears unrelated to initial reports of anger at a video that defamed the prophet Muhammad." ABC News calls out Obama's incorrect energy claims.
UPDATE VIII - Independent voters in California say the debate was a 44-44 tie. CA partisans give it to Obama.
UPDATE IX - CNN's snap poll puts it at 46-39 for Obama. Largely in line with other numbers. Twenty-five percent said they're now more likely to vote for Romney, Obama's number was identical.
UPDATE X - On CNN, Crowley just conceded that Romney's point on Benghazi and terrorism was correct on substance. Politico's Mike Allen fact-checks that interaction on C-SPAN:
UPDATE XI - Here's the video of Crowley walking back her own 'fact-check' on Benghazi, saying that Romney was "right in the main:"
Team Romney is blasting out copious evidence on this point as I write this. Expect the Libya 'terrorism' conversation to spill into tomorrow, for sure. Do Democrats want more discussion of Benghazi?