President Obama and Governor Romney battled to a draw on foreign policy points tonight, with each candidate scoring on several lines. As expected, the discussion meandered into domestic policy for a large portion of the evening, and both men came prepared with a flurry of talking points. Romney needed to strike casual viewers are informed, poised, and plausible as president. He accomplished that task, without question. The president often seemed like the aggressor, hammering his challenger in almost every answer he gave. Romney coolly chided Obama, explaining that attacking him (especially dishonestly) doesn't advance any solutions. The candidates found themselves in general agreement on a number of fronts (Syria, Iran sanctions, etc), leading to smaller skirmishes over who would have done what sooner, or more forcefully. Romney's strongest answers came on the state of the economy and the debt -- as well as on Israel and the so-called "apology tour." He closed very well. The president told a very touching anecdote about meeting a 9/11 orphan, and repeatedly reminded Americans that he is the Commander-in-Chief, often emphasizing the word "me," or "I." On the whole, Obama turned in a strong performance, even if he failed to bait Romney into the more heated exchanges he appeared to crave. Romney executed a clear strategy: Pass the "eye test," challenge the president where necessary, and project strength without striking war-weary Americans as unduly bellicose. Success. I would not be surprised to see the snap polls tilt toward the sitting president tonight, but this was in no way a game-changing event; advantage Romney. Stay tuned for updates...
UPDATE - Two early fact-checks: On a disagreement over forces remaining in Iraq, Romney was right, and Obama was wrong, according to CNN and the New York Times. On the auto industry flare-up, the last two paragraphs of this Times story back up Romney's contentions, as well.
UPDATE II - CBS' instant poll gives a substantial advantage to Obama, 53-23, with 24 percent calling it a tie.
UPDATE III - On CNN, conventional wisdom maven David Gergen says Romney "passed the Commander-in-Chief test:"
UPDATE IV - Many people are giving atta-boys to moderator Bob Schieffer. I agree -- he executed his responsibilities well.
UPDATE V - If Twitter volume is any indication, viewership and interest was down significantly from the first debate, and down slightly from the second.
UPDATE VI - The president's team is already backpedaling from Obama's interesting assertion that the sequestration defense cuts "will not happen."
UPDATE VII - A bizarre moment on CNN. Swing voters in a focus group indicate they've made up their minds, but the anchor goes out of her way to not ask them in which direction.
UPDATE VIII - PPP insta-poll respondents give it to Obama 53-42. Upon further inspection, it looks like the poll was shaded toward Democrats, and the results were pretty undramatic. The Romney people will certainly like this data point (indies).
UPDATE IX - John Harris from Politico was not impressed with the president, says his performance "diminished" the presidency:
UPDATE X - CNN's snap poll indicates a narrow Obama debate win, 48-40. On clearing the Commander-in-Chief hurdle, Romney runs neck-and-neck with the sitting president. As I said, he did what he needed to do.
UPDATE XI - Krauthammer: Romney won tactically and strategically, for reasons that I by and large agree with.
UPDATE XII - Big picture, I think Ross Douthat gets it right: "I expect the snap polls to give a clear edge to Obama, and for Romney's polling to suffer not all." I'll leave you with this, from CNN's poll:
CNN poll of debate watchers: Who did debate make you more likely to vote for? Obama 24%, Romney 25%, Neither 50%. #CNNDebate— Sam Feist (@SamFeistCNN) October 23, 2012