Jobs: Obama. The broad strokes of his ideas (community college slots, loophole closures, lower corporate tax rate) were more specific and fresher than Romney’s (energy independence, trade, education, balanced budget, small business). Romney still hasn’t proven that his public policies are guaranteed job-creators, even with Obama’s lousy numbers. Didn’t inspire much confidence.
Budget: Obama. I’m highly skeptical of Romney’s insistence that no tax cut of his will add to the deficit, and I don’t believe for a minute that leaving defense cuts off the table is a good idea. Plus Obama sold Clinton-era tax hikes well, and that $5 trillion tax cut does appear to exist. On the other hand, Romney did demonstrate that Obama hasn’t reduced as many redundancies as should be reduced.
Entitlements: Romney. He definitely sounded like he understood the role of states better. Obama sounded like he was in physical pain the entire way through that part of the debate.
Regulations: Romney. He had a clear message on his approach to regulations: good in theory, can be bad in practice. Obama made essentially the same point, but in a way that sounded like he would rather see things regulated than not. That won’t sell.
Health care: Tie. Romney was too idealistic about the idea of states replicating Massachusetts-style health care, and some of his zingers had a “death panel” tone. But Obama sounded too much like himself three years ago and couldn’t withstand attacks on the ill effects of Obamacare.
Role of government: Romney. Pretty much the same stuff from both (individual freedom and helping each other), but Romney made the distinction between voluntary help and government-issued help, which is lost on a lot of people.
Partisanship: Romney. He proved that he had a record on working across party aisles as governor, and had a system for making one. He struck exactly the right tone on the need to replicate this in D.C.
Debate format: A good idea gone bad. Neither candidate had any respect for time limits or moderator Jim Lehrer. Either we need to demand more discipline next time, or make them sit down in chairs wired with ass-buzzers. I’d enjoy that.
Overall tone: A bit too wonky, even for me. Not much will resonate with the majority of voters until it’s condensed into headlines.
Overall winner: Romney. This is a pre-fact checking judgment and may change later, but he sounded like he knew what he was getting himself into. I want to note that watching opposing judgements from my winger friends was pretty funny.