All right, I missed the season premier and the All-Sidekick Special. But I caught this one.
On the whole I think Obama pulled this one out but they both did pretty well. Romney was at his best when he was criticizing Obama's record, his failures and broken promises -- and I think that speaks to the fundamental weakness of each campaign. Obama has failed to be the President he promised to be four years ago, but on the other hand, Romney is essentially running the same campaign John Kerry was eight years ago -- nobody's voting for him, they're voting against the incumbent.
Today's top story was Secretary Clinton's mea culpa on the attack in Benghazi. This was an opening for Romney; to my mind the Administration has bungled its narrative on the attack over the past few weeks, sticking to the "spontaneous attack over a YouTube video" story well after it became clear it was a coordinated terrorist strike.
Romney fucked that up.
The bit where he claimed Obama didn't refer to it as a "terrorist attack" on day one, and Crowley checked the transcript and confirmed that he had? That was the strongest audience reaction of the night, and we'll be seeing it in the highlight reel. Romney's best line of attack on foreign policy is effectively neutralized.
(The Republican talking point now appears to be that Crowley lied and Obama never used the phrase "terrorist attack". Per the transcript, the actual phrase he used was "acts of terror" -- claiming that the two phrases are not equivalent is absurd hairsplitting.)
Crowley was great, too; she gave the candidates rope when it was appropriate and reined them in when it was appropriate to do that. I only heard a bit of the first debate, but what I heard was consistent with what everyone said about Lehrer afterward: he was a moderator in name only and the debate was completely out of his control. Crowley owned it.
On the whole I'm still not happy with Obama. (And that he's got the balls to go up there and criticize Romney for supporting China in conducting surveillance on its own citizens, even as he's ramped up domestic surveillance beyond even Bush Administration levels...) I'm leaning Stein at this point. But I still prefer Obama to the alternative and hope he wins. If I were in a swing state, I might bite the bullet and vote for him -- but I'm not. There's a single poll showing Obama running within the margin of error in Arizona; the New York Times explains why it's best taken with a grain of salt (tl;dr the sample is too small and if Arizona were to go blue it would be part of a nationwide surge in Obama's favor).
All in all, a decent episode but I'm not sure it was good enough for me to stick around for the finale. Not nearly as good as the new episode of Walking Dead the other night.