Two presidential debates are down — with one to go.
Criticized as disinterested and passive in his first presidential debate with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, an animated and energetic President Barack Obama showed up for a showdown Tuesday night at Hofstra University in New York.
The result was a lively, mostly interesting and sometimes mildly intemperate series of exchanges between the Democratic incumbent and his Republican challenger.
Both brought their A-games to Tuesday's town-hall-style format, demonstrating a solid grasp of the issues and a steel will, even if their facts and opinions differed markedly. From our perspective, the result was essentially a draw, with each candidate giving as good as he got.
The bottom line is that the two men gave undecided voters plenty to chew on and choose from.
Time is drawing short for the candidates to make their final impressions on the relative handful of undecided voters. Frankly, if they couldn't decide by Tuesday's debate which way they are leaning, it's hard to know what more information they need.
Nonetheless, both candidates tried hard to win them over by trying to undermine the other's claims and rationale for running.
Obama, who has relentlessly attacked Romney as a heartless plutocrat, invoked that theme from the get-go, saying that his opponent is running on a one-point plan: "... that plan is that folks at the top play by a different set of rules," he stated.
At the same time, Romney characterized Obama's tenure as four years of failure and said a second Obama term would bring more of the same economic misery: "We don't have to live like this. We can get this economy going again," he said.
Each candidate is, to a degree, running against a caricature of the other, and while that can make for interesting debates, it has a tendency to make serious discussions of difficult issues relatively rare, particularly as Election Day draws closer.
That was apparent Tuesday as each candidate relentlessly challenged and interrupted the other, strode the stage trying to create an impressive visual, and evaded questions that were asked just to deliver pre-planned statements.
Still, the debate was revealing. Indeed, it was gratifying to see each candidate stand tall and confident under the obvious pressure. What voters make of it will become clear soon enough.