Presidential debate #2: Romney hits Obama right in the fist with his nose

I have to hand it to Mitt Romney – he had a very spirited first half of a debate tonight. Unfortunately for him, he had it with moderator Candy Crowley.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama ran the table, seemingly without Romney noticing.

Obama showed up to tonight’s town hall-style debate clear about what he needed to accomplish. He was determined to not let pass any moment during which Romney misrepresented either his own or Obama’s positions or record. On this front alone, Obama would have won the debate.

But, especially in the first half, Obama didn’t just win, he mopped the floor with Romney. He showed all the spirit he was lacking in the first debate. He held Romney’s feet to the fire in all the ways his campaign wished he had in the first debate. And he dominated, without seeming domineering, like he should have in the first debate.

It’s not that the second half of tonight’s town hall was much better for Romney. It was, however, more scary for Obama supporters. Obama got a bit wild-eyed toward the end, and Obama voters could be forgiven for being tempted to want to reach through the TV and push him back just a bit. But he always pulled himself back just in time.

Incidentally, I read the memorandum of understanding between the two campaigns earlier today, and everybody involved – including Crowley – broke the agreed-to rules, big-time. But it was already clear before tonight that debate rules were meant to be broken, and it didn’t detract from this information flow. Mostly it was amusing.

Crowley, for her part, showed up determined not to be Lehrer’ed, and she succeeded. On the other hand, calling on a voter to ask a question about guns, before you had ever called on anybody to ask about public education, when you’re running out of time? Seriously?

What tonight’s debate set could have looked like

I was in the studio at YNN Austin, watching the debate on the set with Republican frequent partner-in-crime Ted Delisi, and Ted had an interesting observation I completely agree with: the Presidential Debate Commission never picks Texas as a debate site. I think Ted’s onto something, especially watching the white people-fest that passes for “a diverse group of undecided voters” in New York. Let’s face it: those yankees were annoying the crap out of me. What about a town hall debate in San Antonio next time, Commissioners? We’ll show you diverse, and we promise that not all the questions will be about taking our guns away.

What now? I think the President gets his solid momentum back, that’s what now. I think the big gender gap in which an overwhelming majority of women support Obama is reinforced. I think serious doubts about Mitt Romney among a lot of swing voters in key states returns. And I think in the few days we’ll begin to see the polling swing back Obama’s way, with him gaining back a lot of ground lost two weeks ago after his weak debate performance then.

And I think Democrats can afford exactly one-half of a sigh of relief. Because the bottom line is, this will still be a very close race and Democrats have a lot of work left to do to win it.