Forty-six percent of voters who watched Tuesday night's presidential debate said that the president won the showdown, according to a CNN/ORC International nationwide poll conducted right after Tuesday night's faceoff here at Hofstra University on New York's Long Island. Thirty-nine percent questioned said Republican nominee Mitt Romney did the better job.
Obama's seven-point advantage came among a debate audience that was somewhat more Republican than the country as a whole and is within the survey's sampling error.
Pundit reaction below the jump.
We start with Taegan Goddard:
If President Obama had done this well in the first debate, most would have already written off Mitt Romney. Obama won the debate decisively.
The president had a simple formula: Defend and explain his record while insisting that Romney wasn't being truthful. He kept Romney on the defensive and came prepared with counter-punches to nearly every topic. It was devastatingly effective.
Andrew Sullivan was talked down from the ledge:
To my mind, Obama dominated Romney tonight in every single way: in substance, manner, style, and personal appeal. He came back like a lethal, but restrained predator. He was able to defend his own record, think swiftly on his feet, and his Benghazi answer was superb. He behaved like a president. He owned the presidency. And Romney? Well, he has no answers on the math question and was exposed. He was vulnerable on every social issue, especially immigration. And he had no real answer to the question of how he'd be different than George W Bush.
Greg Sargent agreed.
A very different President Obama showed up to tonight’s debate than the one who got trounced by Mitt Romney two weeks ago. Obama absolutely had to turn in a performance that would make his base happy — and he did that, by demonstrating a willingness to get in Mitt Romney’s face and in his space, and by not flinching from calling out Romney’s lies. Will Obama’s performance appeal to independents, swing, and undecided voters?
Yes, it will. The race will not be transformed in a fundamental way — it will still be a dead heat — but Obama accomplished something of a turnaround tonight. He took steps towards undoing the damaging dynamic Romney cemented during the last debate: One in which Romney had assumed the role of the energetic candidate of change, while relegating Obama to the role of listless, passive candidate of the unacceptable status quo — of the “new normal.”
ABC News's Rick Klein:
Not until an exchange on Libya — close on the heels of a petty-but-buzzy attack on pension size — did the president hit a stride in tonight’s debate. He declared it “offensive” to suggest that politics played into his administration’s handling of the tragic attack in Benghazi.
“That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president, that’s not what I do as commander-in-chief,” Obama said.
The president took a subject that should have been a sore spot and turned it around. He was having a decent debate to that point, but that exchange — including his call for a fact-check on when he labeled Benghazi a terrorist attack — made it something more than that, the victory his campaign desperately needed.
CBS News's Saul Loeb:
But it was Mr. Obama who landed the majority of the blows. Perhaps his finest moment came in response to a question on Libya. This was supposed to be an area of advantage for Romney in light of the administration's bungled response to the terror attack. Instead it was a shining moment for the president, who pivoted to make a memorable case for his toughness as commander-in-chief. "I said that we'd go after al-Qaeda and bin Laden, we have," he said. "I said we'd transition out of Afghanistan, and start making sure that Afghans are responsible for their own security, that's what I'm doing. And when it comes to this issue, when I say that we are going to find out exactly what happened, everybody will be held accountable. And I am ultimately responsible for what's taking place there because these are my folks, and I'm the one who has to greet those coffins when they come home. You know that I mean what I say."
Even Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post admitted the President won.
It was a near-certainty that the incumbent would improve on his mystifying bad first debate performance. And, he did. But he also did more than that. After coming out a little too hot — Obama seemed to be on the wrong side of the angry/passionate divide in the first 15 minutes — he moderated his tone to the sober/serious yet forceful persona that he needed in this debate. Debates are about moments — the moments that get replayed again and again in the after-action analysis — and President Obama had three: 1) his line about how his pension wasn’t as big as Romney’s 2) winning, against all odds, the scrap about the Benghazi attack (with an assist from moderator Candy Crowley) and 3) his strong close in which he used Romney’s “47 percent” comments as a cudgel to beat up his rival. Obama’s performance wasn’t flawless and he didn’t score a clean win as Romney did in the first debate. But, he was the better performer this time around.
Reuters' Andy Sullivan scored Obama as the winner too.
With the November 6 election three weeks away, Obama's second of three debates with Republican rival Mitt Romney represented one of the final chances to make an impression with voters.
Obama made the most of it with a focused, aggressive effort. It was a sharp departure from his listless first debate two weeks ago, when Romney's dominant performance ignited a resurgence by the Republican that left the race virtually even heading into Tuesday's matchup.
So the question is will this change minds? We'll see how the week's polls go. The final debate is Monday.