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WASHINGTON--Fight night at Hofstra. The two boxers, confined within a ring of spectators--circling, feinting, taunting, staring each other down--come several times, by my reckoning, no more than one provocation away from actual fisticuffs, of the kind that on occasion so delightfully break out in the Taiwanese parliament. Think of it: The Secret Service storming the ring, pinning Mitt Romney to the canvas as Candy Crowley administers the 10 count.
The actual outcome was somewhat more pedestrian. President Obama gained a narrow victory on points, as borne out by several flash polls. The margin was small, paling in comparison to Romney's 52-point victory in the first debate.
At Hofstra, Obama emerged from his previous coma to score enough jabs to outweigh Romney's haymaker, his dazzling takedown of the Obama record when answering a disappointed 2008 Obama voter.
That one answer might account for the fact that in two early flash polls, Romney beat Obama on the economy by 18 points in one poll, 31 in the other. That being the overriding issue, the debate is likely to have minimal effect on the dynamics of the race.
The one thing Obama's performance did do is re-energize his demoralized base--the media, in particular. But at a price.
The rub for Obama comes, ironically enough, out of Romney's biggest flub in the debate, the Libya question. That flub kept Romney from winning the evening outright. But Obama's answer has left the president a hostage to fortune. Missed by Romney, missed by the audience, missed by most of the commentariat, it was the biggest gaffe of the entire debate cycle: Substituting unctuousness for argument, Obama declared himself offended by the suggestion that anyone in his administration, including the UN ambassador, would "mislead" the country on Libya.
This bluster--unchallenged by Romney--helped Obama slither out of the Libya question unscathed. Unfortunately for Obama, there is one more debate--next week, entirely on foreign policy. The burning issue will be Libya and the scandalous parade of fictions told by this administration to explain away the debacle.