He was fired up. He was ready to go.
Where he was taking the second presidential debate, though, was slightly fuzzy until President Obama grabbed a chance to look like a president.
Not until an exchange on Libya — close on the heels of a petty-but-buzzy attack on pension size — did the president hit a stride in tonight’s debate. He declared it “offensive” to suggest that politics played into his administration’s handling of the tragic attack in Benghazi.
“That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president, that’s not what I do as commander-in-chief,” Obama said.
The president took a subject that should have been a sore spot and turned it around. He was having a decent debate to that point, but that exchange — including his call for a fact-check on when he labeled Benghazi a terrorist attack — made it something more than that, the victory his campaign desperately needed.
Obama fought back tonight. He attacked Mitt Romney and his record, he walked the stage with confidence, and he likely did himself a whole lot of good in terms of satisfying his base that he still wants the job he’s seeking anew.
Romney delivered a second strong debate. He had Obama on his heels, almost physically aggressive at times in confronting the president with a record he’ll never be fully comfortable defending.
He even squeezed in a way to rebut the infamous “47 percent” comment that wasn’t asked about in his first debate.
“I want 100 percent of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future,” Romney said.
There will be no serious Republican hand-wringing over Romney’s performance, nothing akin to the Democratic angst after Obama’s first debate. Romney brought energy and passion to his arguments, and made clear he very much belongs on the stage.
The president, though, was more quotable on a more personal economic issue.
“I don’t look at my pension — it’s not as big as yours,” Obama quipped.
Obama missed moments for a more resounding victory. A question on President Bush’s economic record could have been a slam dunk, but Obama settled for a fadeaway jumper.
He was, however, scoring points. In a debate that was remarkable for its feistiness, its aggression, even at times its physicality, the president stopped a dangerous storyline — and may have started a new one that sparks up his base again.