WRAP-UP: This was an odd, off-kilter debate. Neither Romney nor Obama seemed entirely comfortable. Romney struck me as too hyper, insisting in every segment on going over every single claim Obama had just made. The result was a bunch of laundry lists that never cohered into recognizable points. Obama seemed oddly hesitant and halting, as if he wasn't quite sure what points he wanted to make. Transcript here.
Neither candidate landed any serious blows. Obama came the closest, I thought, in the last half hour when he attacked Romney for all his secret plans. After noting that Romney wouldn't tell us which tax deductions he wants to cut, or how he wants to replace either Obamacare or Dodd-Frank, Obama delivered the best line of the night: "Is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans secret because they’re too good? Is it because somehow middle-class families are going to benefit too much from them?"
Did that make up for the fact that Obama was strangely incompetent at attacking Romney on his tax plan in the first half hour? Hard to say. But honestly, going after Romney on the tax deduction front seems pretty obvious, and I don't understand why Obama never really did it. Sure, he made a crack about "the math," but he didn't come straight out and ask Romney if he planned to get rid of the home mortgage deduction, for example. That would have hit home a lot harder than hauling out a wonkish point about the "independent analysts" who say Romney's plan doesn't add up.
Romney avoided any big mistakes, and certainly projected more energy than Obama. But I didn't think he really delivered any great lines, or got off any really crisp explanations of his policies. I don't think tonight's performance will hurt him, but I doubt that it really helps him either.
Final score: I give Obama a B-, Romney a B.
Forget all that newfangled Twitter nonsense. We're going retro with some old school liveblogging of tonight's debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Let's do it.
10:24 - Lehrer: "We've lost a pod."
10:23 - Romney is seriously rambling on education.
10:22 - Obama keeps pulling back when he's obviously about to attack Romney. Not sure why.
10:21 - No zingers so far. A few obviously canned lines, but nothing delivered with any zest.
10:16 - "I love great schools." Uh huh. "I reject the idea that I don’t believe in great teachers." Oh please. The faux outrage doesn't work here.
10:15 - Obama's tic of constantly saying "What I've said is...." is annoying.
10:13 - So Lehrer's approach for every topic is to ask the candidates if they think there are any differences between them? This really isn't working. It's just an invitation to give a stump speech.
10:12 - Romney is answering with a bunch of possible options? Weak. Now retreating to talking points.
10:11 - Ah, finally the attack on details. Romney won't tell us what deductions he'll cut. He won't tell us what he'll replace Dodd-Frank with. He won't tell us what he'll replace Obamacare with. "Is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans secret because they're too good?" Very good line.
10:04 - Obama's IPAB explanation wasn't bad, but his speech is oddly halting and staccato tonight. He just doesn't seem fully in command of what he wants to say.
10:03 - "We didn't cut Medicare. Of course, we don't have Medicare." Oops.
10:01 - "The irony is that we’ve seen this model work really well — in Massachusetts." Good line.
9:59 - "Let me tell you exactly what Obamacare did." Finally! Now let's see if he does a good job.
9:54 - Starting to think that the old 60-second limits were a good idea.
9:53 - Do most viewers know what Dodd-Frank is? Do they know what leverage limits are?
9:47 - Obama's attack on vouchers is fairly effective. "If you’re 54 or 55, you might want to listen ‘cause this will affect you."
9:44 - Romney's attack on the $716 billion that Obama cuts from Medicare was OK, but he should have stuck with it instead of flitting around to whatever other attack popped into his mind.
9:43 - Obama is right that Social Security needs nothing more than modest tweaks.
9:40 - Romney is all over the map trying to respond to every last thing Obama said.
9:38 - "It's actually an accounting treatment...." That's really not a good phrase to come out of Romney's mouth.
9:36 - So far, neither of these guys has really done a crisp job of explaining their programs.
9:34 - Romney going all in on the dynamic scoring fairy.
9:33 - "You’ve been president four years. You said you’d cut the deficit in half. It’s now four years later." That's a good line.
9:27 - "I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS"? Seriously? "I like PBS. I love Big Bird. Actually I like you, too." Come on.
9:25 - Romney's habit of arguing about how much time he has is something he really needs to overcome. Sounds childish.
9:20 - Nope, no pushback on loopholes.
9:18 - Is this $5 trillion tax cut thing a trap for Romney? Now Obama can ask him to list the loophole disclosures to pay for that $5 trillion.
9:15 - Are these guys trying to be soporific?
9:09 - A pair of stump speeches. I've forgotten what they said already.
9:01 - CNN has voter reaction in real time! Squiggly lines!
8:58 - David Gergen says it's all about who's "looser." That's bad news already for Romney.