10:30 p.m. Here's my reaction at the close. I'm a partisan, so take my thoughts for what you will.
Romney was aggressive and did pretty well for him. And it helps when you can just disregard your old positions and count on voters having imperfect memories and information. It was his debate strategy in primaries and it remains his strategy now. It's ugly and frustrating (see my earlier posts below), and a reminder of why Mitt Romney doesn't strike me as a man who ought to be in the White House. It's the conviction with which he expresses views on issues where earlier he trumpeted different views just as strongly. Makes me nervous! He also came off as testy and officious at times, especially when dealing with Lehrer. Rude, like a guy who cuts you online at the DMV and acts like you're out of order for being bothered.
President Obama drew a bunch of contrasts far better than Romney did. Vouchers, taxes, etc. And those landed hard and could stick pretty well. His explanations on Dodd-Frank and the importance of financial reform left Mitt Romney in a bad place. His line on Romney's refusal to release his plans could last a while. Not sure any of Romney's points will stick in people's minds as well.
A lot of ways, this debate reminds me of debates between Bush and Gore, and Bush and Kerry. Except, yikes, Obama takes on the role of Bush in this sense: Reporters grow used to candidates; they grow accustomed to the ticks and habits and styles of the people they cover and watch obsessively. Voters -- especially voters who might be swayed by a debate -- do not. So in coverage, pundits see Kerry and Gore performing well, while failing to notice they often spoke in Washington-ese and in a style that rubs ordinary people as strange and off-putting. Romney's tone and manners are removed; they're odd and tight and disconcerting. If you follow politics, you're used to it. If you don't, you're not. You notice it. You wonder where he grew up and why he speaks like he's one of the more well-off passengers on the Titanic. And it is striking. Just a thought.
All in all, a great night to live on the West Coast -- because this debate didn't steal my whole evening. See you next week ...
10:16 p.m. It's hard to keep up with all the little fibs and deceptions that Romney weaves in to his remarks with such speed and tenacity. Off the top of my head ...
Romney claims he never said Romneycare should be a national model. He did.
Romney claims he never promised to cut taxes for wealthy. His plan did.
Romney claims he won't change Medicare for current seniors; repealing Obamacare will do exactly that.
Romney claims he covers pre-existing conditions - in every meaningful way, his plan does not.
Romney claims ...
9:53 p.m. Thought: Many in the press and who follow politics obsessively are used to the strange cadence and uncomfortable tightness of Mitt Romney's delivery. We kind of get used to the awkward smiles and persnickety laughs about the rules. But if you're just tuning in ....
9:35 p.m. In many ways, this election is a referendum on whether or not Mitt Romney's kind of politics is effective. People can argue about the president's policies, but he has always been honest about our fiscal situation; he has always been honest about gimmicks -- whether it was cutting earmarks four years ago or cutting PBS today -- which will do almost nothing to lower our debt. Mitt Romney believes he can get by without the numbers adding up. He can be for deficit reduction while being against cutting taxes, entitlements, and military spending. He can promise more education funding to some audiences; more NASA funding to Florida; more health-care funding to seniors; and "Oh by the way, I won't accept any deal that raises even meager revenues when compared to budget cuts." It's BS. It's nonsense. It's obviously not true. But he has not only embraced this idea, he's embraced its cheerleader in the Congress, Paul Ryan.
So anyway, that's frustrating.
9:27 p.m. So far nothing really surprising about this debate. Though I forgot about this from the primaries: Mitt Romney's skill in debates is speaking with great conviction about matters on which he's held like seven positions. He's no longer cutting taxes? Come on. He didn't propose tax breaks for the wealthy? But he says it like he's actually taking offense. It's stunning. I don't know whether I'd rather he show conviction because he believes it or because he believes he has to show it. Which is worse?
9:16 p.m. After months and months and months of flogging a plan to cut taxes for wealthy families, Romney has backed off of it now that it's inconvenient. The ink on the plan is barely dry. He was talking about cutting rates for the wealthy like a couple of weeks ago. At least when he flipped on education, climate change, health care, trade, stimulus, etc., etc., he respected us enough to wait a while.
9 p.m. Here we go. Barack Obama. Mitt Romney. Jim Lehrer. Any of these men could be our next President.
I'm kidding, I know Mitt Romney can't win.
I'm kidding, he still could.
Anyway, I'm live blogging.