10.31 pm. Look: you know how much I love the guy, and you know how much of a high information viewer I am, and I can see the logic of some of Obama's meandering, weak, professorial arguments. But this was a disaster for the president for the key people he needs to reach, and his effete, wonkish lectures may have jolted a lot of independents into giving Romney a second look.
Obama looked tired, even bored; he kept looking down; he had no crisp statements of passion or argument; he wasn't there. He was entirely defensive, which may have been the strategy. But it was the wrong strategy. At the wrong moment.
The person with authority on that stage was Romney – offered it by one of the lamest moderators ever, and seized with relish. This was Romney the salesman. And my gut tells me he sold a few voters on a change tonight. It's beyond depressing. But it's true.
There are two more debates left. I have experienced many times the feeling that Obama just isn't in it, that he's on the ropes and not fighting back, and then he pulls it out. He got a little better over time tonight. But he pulled every punch. Maybe the next two will undo some of the damage. But I have to say I think it was extensive.
10.30 pm. But Romney's closing statement – very, very vague and highly deceptive. And is it me, or does he even sound like Reagan? And his final statement is on defending Medicare! He's the protector of that entitlement, even as his actual plan is a radical overhaul of it.
10.29 pm. How is Obama's closing statement so fucking sad, confused and lame? He choked. He lost. He may even have lost the election tonight.
10.25 pm. The idea that the candidate of the current Republican party is portraying himself as the most willing to reach across the aisle is staggering. That he is more persuasive on this than the president is a staggering personal failure on Obama's part. And now Obama is saying he is the candidate of "saying no". Just staggering incompetence on his part.
10.23 pm. Lehrer has basically handed the moderation of this to the candidates, and Romney has taken command. And he has done so by speaking for three minutes less.
10.22 pm. The liar has managed to make Obama seem dishonest. In an act of will, Romney's lies are made effective.
10.19 pm. A reader writes:
My wife and I are feeling the same hysteria you're expressing. Romney, while coming off as more than a bit aggressive, is clear, authoritative, and on point. Obama is a confusing, meandering, stuttering mess.
I'm a high information voter, so I know the context of Obama's complaints about Romney's tax plan not adding up, or comments about Medicare, Dodd-Frank, etc. I also know when Romney is lying through his teeth or contradicting his own past statements. Most of your Dish readers are probably in the same boat. But America as a whole? I'm not so sure. And to them I'd think Romney looks like he's creaming Obama.
And given how badly Romney's years at Bain have played in the media and ad wars to this date, I'm truly impressed by how well Romney has been able to play up his years of business experience. I have to admit, the way he's spinning it, not only does it sound impressive, but incredibly relevant to the issues being discussed.
In live-blogging a debate, I am not judging the intellectual cogency alone. I am judging it as a debate, which is a complex thing, with many factors in play. But I know debating, am good at it, and I can see a wipe-out when it's, well, in front of one's nose.
10.17 pm. Romney is even sounding Reagan-like and compassionate right now. The Etch-A-Sketch is shaking, and the old Romney is back, with coded appeals to his base. And then he adds onto that a litany of woes currently experienced. Again, even after Obama's eloquent answer, Romney is better.
10.14 pm. Obama's description of the role of government is actually elegant, and eloquent. Invoking Lincoln was great; invoking Eisenhower would have been even better. Education is the key. But hearing Obama defend his record, after hearing Clinton, is painful. Truly painful.
10.12 pm. Finally, Obama manages to point out the vagueness of Romney's hazy alternatives. But Romney, who just rolls ovr Lehrer. Yet another round to Romney. I don't think Obama has won a single exchange in this entire debate.
10.08 pm. Romney has somehow managed to turn healthcare into a fantasy decision between grim rationing bureaucrats versus patients and hospitals. It's an amazingly good performance, given the facts and arguments he has to deploy. In response, Obama is stuttering, detailed, wonkish, ineffective.
10.06 pm. I find myself bored silly by Obama. If I am bored silly by this wonkish lecture, and his refusal to rebut specific points, i.e. lies, Obama's in trouble.
10.03 pm. I simply cannot believe that Mitt Romney is saying he is more bipartisan than Obama. And Obama never pushes back. He is leaving argument after argument on the table, while he seems to be writing a memo to himself whenever Romney is speaking.
10.01 pm. Finally, Obama thanks Romney for Obamacare. The first time he actually turned the tables. Staggering it took him an hour to get there. And now Romney's lies on healthcare are becoming effective. And Obama is still looking down. Did no one tell him there is a split screen? Just political malpractice.
9.58 pm. Romney is now so clearly lying about how president Obama decided to do healthcare before jobs I wonder if he's over-reaching. But you notice that the second Romny stops speaking and Obama starts, the approval line sinks. That's grim data. Obama is going full metal wonk.
9.55 pm. More dissents:
It's 9:46, and you're becoming hysterical. Romney is so aggressive he's frightening. He's lying so quickly and changing positions so radically that no one could keep up with it. Take it easy. Obama seems like a normal person. Romney seems like he's been drinking Red Bull for 72 hours straight. It is not attractive.
I disagree with you completely. The confident person is the President. The anxious, sweating and near-hyperventilating person–Romney. I read you regularly–and like your work–but I sometimes think that you prepare yourself for the worse by announcing its arrival prematurely. I believe that your "live-blogging" thus far reflects that predisposition.
Romney seems flat out willing to lie, but I guess no one reads the fact check after?
9.53 pm. Some readers agree with me that Obama has been losing this debate, although I do think he is improving, waking up, finally and gaining momentum. One reader writes:
I'm sitting in a room with six other people. These aren't all ravenous Democrats. No one is having the reaction you are. Not. One. Obama HAS flat-out asked Romney how he plans to pay for his budget. Over and over and over again. Seriously, man, what debate are you watching?
They're both tight and trying to cram a ton of details into their answers. Yes, Romney is ravenously attacking. What else did you expect him to do? That's not Obama's style, and you've known it now for four years. He was never going to rip at Romney's throat. This is who Obama is. You know that. Keep calm, debate on.
9.51 pm. Romney is dominating Lehrer. And the debate. Just in pure alpha male terms.
9.45 pm. Finally, Obama began to make sense on Medicare. He made a simple, comprehensible case, and actually looked the boomers in the eye, when he said so. But Romney equaled him on this subject. I notice that as soon as Obama starts to speak, whatever he says, the green line of male approval goes down. It's the gender gap illustrated live.
9.44 pm. How Obama has managed to give Romney the advantage on Medicare in this exchange is political malpractice. Its not just an advantage so far. It's a wipe-out for Romney.
9.42 pm. This is a rolling calamity for Obama. He's boring, abstract, and less human-seeming than Romney! I can't even follow hm half the time. Either exhausted, over-briefed … or just flailing. He is throwing this debate away.
9.39 pm. First unforced Romney error: "I may need a new accountant."
9.31 pm. Finally, Obama is hitting his stride. But if the first half hour counts in basic impression, it's looking grim.
9.29 pm. Here's what Obama is missing: energy, optimism, passion. Whereas in style, I tend to agree with Wilkinson so far:
Romney seems relatively relaxed and is coming off fairly clear and authoritative. He should cut out the bemused smile he makes when Obama talks, though.
9.25 pm. Romney is running on Bowles-Simpson! And he's relating it to alleviating human suffering. A devastating round for the president. Romney has taken charge, even as Obama has spoken more. And Romney has now managed to make this into a status-quo versus change dynamic. Just terrible for Obama so far, in my opinion. And again, he keeps looking down to write. He should look him in the eye.
9.24 pm. I sure hope Obama wakes up. He's beginning to. And then he used the word "data".
9.22 pm. Notice how Romney is talking about actual individuals, while Obama is talking abstract ideas. And Obama has not made a clear simple argument for getting more jobs. How did he not prepare an answer for that?
9.18 pm. Obama's looking down as Romney speaks. Horrible TV. Why doesn't Obama just say: "How do we afford this? Where will you get the money to pay for the big tax cuts?" I hate to say this but Romney is connecting more than Obama, it seems to me. Obama is professorial and wonkish. He's on defense.
9.16 pm. Man, Obama is boring and abstract. He's putting us to sleep. I get his points but he is entirely wonky tonight. And he is on the defensive. Romney's crazy math is somehow made legitimate. Romney is kicking the president's ass.
9.11 pm. A good volley back from Obama but Romney is coming off like Reagan, and has managed to provide anecdotes and stories, while Obama is a little wonky. But when Romney actually said that he wasn't cutting taxes for the very wealthy, it seems completely out of sync with his actual proposal.
9.07 pm. A nervous but competent beginning by Obama, but I'm struck by the visuals. Romney just looks like a classic president and Obama a very different one. The visuals are with Romney. And his answer was a total re-boot on compassion. This first round goes solidly to Romney.
9.01 pm. Basically the same height, which is not always the case.
8.57 pm. Here's the spousal money shot, with Ann putting on her Mary Tyler Moore "Ordinary People" face:
It's from Nicholas Kamm/Getty.
8.53 pm. The shots of Ann and Michelle are almost a study in acute tension. This is my first live-blog sitting next to a colleague, Chris, in the NYC Beast offices. You know why? I don't have a television in the new place yet. Or cable. And my mifi is on the blink.
(Top photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)