Debate watchers on both sides agreed Tuesday that President Barack Obama shook off the blahs from two weeks ago and delivered a much stronger performance in his second face-off with challenger Mitt Romney. But with one part conviction and one part spin, most still insisted their favored candidate prevailed.
One Obama backer quipped that it appeared the president "channeled a little bit of Mitt Romney" in the debate, in contrast to the listless performance that left the former Massachusetts governor a clear winner in their first meeting on Oct. 3. For both events, the Tampa Tribune and TBO.com assembled a panel of voters representing both parties to watch the debate at The News Center downtown and share their opinions.
Again, the candidates failed to change any minds or flip votes, but both sides agreed Obama appeared to be more spirited and aggressive this time around.
"In the last debate Obama just kind of sat there and didn't push back," said Todd J. Goodman, a restaurant owner and Obama supporter who was particularly hard on his candidate two weeks ago. "I think he channeled a little bit of Mitt Romney, even to the point he was a little bit rude, for a president, but he needed to be."
Addressing what he said were false claims by the Romney campaign and the big political action committees, Goodman said, "He had to find a way to stand back and say this is not true — and I'm glad he did."
Obama said he was too polite in the first debate, acknowledging he had a "bad day." Romney, meanwhile, enjoyed a boost in polls, with analyst Real Clear Politics concluding the Republican had overtaken the Democratic president in Florida, a key swing state.
Romney backers saw more of what they liked on Tuesday.
"I feel that Romney as a businessman, as an expert in accounting and business practices, you can tell he has a grasp of numbers … That's the person I want in the presidency," said college student Marco Tarantino.
Steve Cona, chief operating officer of Associated Builders and Contractors, accused Obama of avoiding answers on the economy. "It's very difficult to unseat a sitting president, but I think it's a lot easier when the president hasn't done anything in the last four years."
"The best advantage an incumbent has is his record," Cona said. "He has no record. People know they are spending more money every day and they are making less money, and that's what's going to decide the election."
Travis Horn said he and fellow Romney backers were looking for, but didn't necessarily see, "that winning moment" from either side. "Obama certainly had more energy tonight than in the past debate, but energy in a debate doesn't create jobs or put fuel in my gas tank."
Obama backers, particularly the women in the room, highlighted Romney's statement that overall job growth would improve hiring of women. The candidates had been asked how they would eliminate discrimination in the workplace.
"That's where Mr. Romney dug his own hole," said Kathy Wingard, a journalist. "Throughout my working life I have endured all kinds of discrimination as a woman ... Now they're saying they'll give you enough jobs that they will even be able to hire women — well, thank you very much."
Cate Colgan, who described herself as an entrepreneur, added, "They've lost the women's vote."