But GOP nominee Mitt Romney did well also, hammering home a number of points in the 90 minute telecast.
Perhaps the overall winner, however, was the moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley.
Crowley didn’t allow either man to push his way past her and dominate the time and/or interrupt the other. Romney ran roughshod over PBS’s Jim Lehrer in the first debate.
Now, I can already hear the Republicans saying that Crowley was unfair – she interrupted Romney more than she did Obama.
At one point, she even asked Romney to sit down – like a teacher scolding a misbehaving child.
And she pointedly corrected Romney when he said – again talking over Obama – that Obama didn’t say that terrorists killed the American ambassador to Libya until two weeks after the event.
Obama said “look at the transcript” of his Rose Garden address to reporters the day after the deadly attack.
And Crowley told Romney that he was wrong, that Obama did say it was terrorism.
Caught exaggerating the truth in a presidential debate?!
But Romney was ready for some of Obama’s criticisms, as well.
When Obama took the opportunity to say that Romney has invested in Chinese businesses – which he admitted he has – Romney shot back asking Obama if he’d looked at his pension funds lately.
“You have investments in China, too,” said Romney.
“I don’t have much of a pension,” said Obama, and it didn’t amount to much. The audience laughed.
But Romney blunted a thrust by Obama in a clever repartee.
One of the more interesting answers came at the very end of the debate.
A man in the audience (this was a “town hall” format and from the 82 “undecided” Long Island voters Crowley asked a dozen to pose prepared questions) asked each man what has been misunderstood about themselves in this campaign.
Romney looked pleased to get a chance at this one – since he believes he’s been greatly mischaracterized in this campaign -- and thanked the man for the question.
Romney said: “I care about 100 percent of the people, 100 percent of their future and their kids’” – clearly a reference to the 47 percent that he referred to in a secretly-taped address last spring to a small group of wealthy Romney-backers.
“My passion flows because I believe in God, that we are all children of the same God.”
He said he’s served as a missionary for his (LDS) faith, and as a pastor to a congregation for 10 years, and helped folks with real problems.
Unfortunately, Romney then made kind of a ham-handed pivot to criticizing Obama’s record.
The president, in answering the same question, said he doesn’t believe that government creates jobs. America’s free enterprise system is the “greatest engine of prosperity” the world has ever seen. He applauds risk-takers and believes they should be rewarded.
He then complimented Romney, saying he believes the former Massachusetts governor is a good man, who loves his family and his faith.
But then Obama hit him: “He said 47 percent of Americans consider themselves victims, and refuse personal responsibility.”
Obama said those 47 percent are folks on Social Security, who have saved and worked all their lives.
They are members of the military, they are students who are working hard, but can’t make ends meet.
“If (those 47 percent) succeed, this country succeeds. My grandfather went to college on the G.I. bill (after WWII). That wasn’t a hand out.”
And then Obama specifically asked viewers – perhaps 50 million of them – for their votes.
Over the next several days we’ll see if Obama’s performance moves the polls – which tightened after Romney did so well in the first debate.
But there won’t be much time – the final of the three presidential debates takes place Monday night.
And then it’s the mad dash to the Nov. 6 elections – the debates over and the two men fighting for key “undecided” votes in half a dozen swing states – the outcome the presidency.