Some quick thoughts on the debate:
a.) Obama was aggressive on debating/rebutting/getting points in. It was a big improvement over last time. In particular, Obama had a lot more facts at his fingertips this time around.
b.) Romney was not as aggressive as Obama, but was by no means passive. I do not think he came in with a strategy to attack Obama intensely, but Obama came in with a strategy to attack Romney.
c.) Romney prosecuted the case against Obama's record very effectively and got things back to jobs again and again and again. That was extremely effective. He also came across as empathetic with the audience questioners. All of this was good for Romney insofar as it addresses weakness in his numbers.
d.) I did not hear much of a vision from Obama. I heard little talk about jobs from him, and he totally botched two questions from people on why they should vote for him when they are now so bummed.
e.) I was impressed with how Romney turned around some obvious left-tilted questions to his advantage. Equal pay for equal work -- an obvious tee-up for Obama, but Romney did very well with it. He also nailed the question of why he is different from George W. Bush.
f.) All in all, Obama spent more time attacking Romney than Romney did Obama. Romney spent more time laying out his own resume, plan, and vision.
g.) Wild card: The contentious section of the debate on Libya. Candy Crowley corrected Romney that Obama didn't call it a terrorist attack at the Rose Garden speech day of attack. She's wrong. This looks like it will play moving forward. Nevertheless, Romney has to sharpen his attack on Libya for the next debate.
h.) I thought Romney came across as consistently pleasant, much like in the last debate. Obama vacillated -- sometimes prickly, other times warm and charming. He played up some good (faux) outrage against Romney on Libya. I am not sure it worked; he seemed resentful to have been accused. There is a fine line between presidential and imperious, and I am not sure he walked it perfectly.
If I were scoring on pure points, I'd say Obama won narrowly. However Obama looked more prickly than Romney, and Romney was much more focused on pushing his actual campaign message. I think he succeeded there.
Final thought: These debates provide mostly an upside for Romney, and mostly a downside for Obama -- insofar as Romney has an opportunity to look like a credible alternative to the president of the United States by standing on stage with him as an equal. This is why I am uninterested in who wins on points. Once again, Romney looked like a credible alternative to Obama, even if the latter may have landed more technical blows. Romney was especially effective at seeming empathetic, personally qualified, and focused on getting the economy going.
Jay Cost is a staff writer for THE WEEKLY STANDARD and the author of Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic, available now wherever books are sold.