Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) speaks as U.S. President Barack Obama listens during a town hall style debate at Hofstra University October 16, 2012 in Hempstead, New York. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
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Political debates are almost always about style over substance.
Richard Nixon sweating. Al Gore sighing. Ronald Reagan delivering biting one liners. Bill Clinton feeling a voter's pain.
Two weeks ago President Barack Obama was widely criticized - even and especially within his own party - for a listless debate performance in which he smirked, often kept his head down and largely failed to engage his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Tuesday, the president roared back with a more aggressive, confident and even confrontational demeanor as he met Gov. Romney in the second of their three presidential debates.
On issues ranging from immigration, women's rights, foreign policy and the auto industry bailout, an energized Obama engaged Romney and ceded little ground. The performance was a stark contrast to the first debate, where Romney played aggressor and was rewarded with a bump in the polls and a renewed vigor among his base.
With Democrats concerned and even angry over how Obama fared in the first debate, the president clearly made up some lost ground tonight.
The debate's town hall-style format invited and allowed open confrontation between the candidates, who at times bickered, argued, talked over one another and even followed each other around the stage. The result was a spirited and fast-moving encounter between the two men vying for the nation's highest office. At times, it wasn't exactly presidential, but it was entertaining and telling.
Obama didn't score a knockout, but he got back in the game, while Romney showed the debating skills that helped him win the GOP nomination.
It is amazing that in a political landscape where literally billions of dollars are spent on campaign ads, polling, social media, opposition research, focus groups, cross-country campaign swings, massive rallies and get-out-the-vote efforts and Super PAC influence that two candidates standing toe-to-toe - void of handlers, spin doctors and consultants - and debating the issues still has such a major impact on who will serve as the next president.
Almost 70 million watched the first debate on television. We won't know for sure until the ratings are compiled, but it's a safe bet that at least that many people tuned in tonight. This is not just great politics; it's high-stakes, historic drama. There is a feeling that someone could win or lose based on their performance. Romney surged in the first debate; Obama stormed back in the second.
The third and final debate should be something to see.
Patrick Crowley spent 27 years as journalist, including 17 years as a political reporter and columnist for The Cincinnati Enquirer. He also wrote for Newsweek, National Journal, Congress Daily and Voter.com. In 2010 he and Jay Fossett, a lawyer and the former City Manager of Covington, launched Strategic Advisers, LLC, a government affairs and public relations firm based in Fort Mitchell, Ky. Crowley lives in Fort Thomas, Ky.
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