Barack Obama: the new Comeback Kid?

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What a difference 12 days makes.

I never bought into the notion that President Obama needed to crush Mitt Romney in their second debate, effectively forcing the Republican to flee from the stage in tears. What the president needed to do was show some genuine fight – for his supporters, for his agenda, for his record, for reality, and ultimately, for his job.

Obama did all of that and then some last night, delivering the best debate performance of his career in national politics. Take his final response of the night, for example.

The question was fairly straightforward: “What do you believe is the biggest misperception that the American people have about you as a man and a candidate?” Obama offered a spirited defense of his vision of government, but just as important, he used it to pivot to a devastating critique of Romney’s controversial “47 percent” video.

The president hadn’t brought up the recording in the first debate, and let it go by without mention last night, right up until the very end, leaving Romney no chance to respond. I half-expected Obama to drop the mic when he was done.

For more than 90 minutes, the president reminded voters why they’d elected him in the first place, giving supporters who started drifting away two weeks ago a reason to return home. The mistakes Obama made two weeks ago – the hesitancy, the stumbling, the uncertainty – were gone, replaced with a forceful president, ready to make a passionate appeal for a second term.

Mitt Romney, who won fairly easily two weeks ago, was an equally clear loser last night. It’s not that he was awful – the former governor continues to have an impressive ability to regurgitate the script he’s memorized – but he was simply outclassed and overpowered by a fired up, well prepared president. We’ll explore some of the key issue areas throughout the morning, but Romney’s performance was marked by evasiveness, dishonesty, belligerence, and missed opportunities. It’s almost as if he expected the same lackluster president who showed up two weeks ago to reappear, and was caught flat-footed when Obama beat him badly.

In Denver, Obama had the substance on his side, but Romney’s style carried the day. Last night, it was the president who excelled in both. Republicans thought one more dominating Romney performance would make him the frontrunner with 20 days to go. Instead, it’s Obama who bounced off the ropes.

At a certain level, it’s odd to think a 90-minute forum, after years of governing and months of campaigning, would significantly affect the race, but I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say Obama’s chances of winning a second term are noticeably better this morning than they were 24 hours ago.

Debates, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama

Barack Obama: the new Comeback Kid?

Updated