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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Who Won Town-Hall Debate?

Aired October 16, 2012 - 22:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We were just pausing to see if they were going to speak to each other, they were going to say anything. The two candidates meeting with their wives right now.

The president, you saw smiling broadly. He had some pretty good reason to smile during this -- during the aftermath of this debate. He did today what he avoided doing, what he failed to do during the first debate: namely, go on the offensive, go ahead and respond. He came out swinging from the beginning, and he didn't stop throughout this entire debate.

Mitt Romney had his moments. He was effective, very effective, when he referred to promises that the president made before he came into office at the beginning of his tenure, promises that he said the president failed to deliver, and he delivered a litany of various promises that the president had made which have not yet been delivered.

Both of these -- both of these candidates have strong moments, and both of them at times had weak moments on the Libya question. For example, the president was specifically asked a question that he avoided answering.

He was asked, "What did you do when you got reports before the attack that they needed greater security at that consulate in Benghazi?" He avoided answering that. He then went on to give his answer and to express his deep feelings for those four Americans that were killed. That was a missed opportunity, clearly, for Mitt Romney, because he didn't challenge the president specifically on that. He did say, "Mr. President, you didn't answer that question." He then misreported what the president said on the day after that 11th anniversary attack on 9/11, on September 12, when the president was in the Rose Garden and he did say, in fact, "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation." So that was a -- a mistake by Mitt Romney, but it was obviously a missed opportunity, as well.

Let me just point out to our viewers what we're seeing now. They're on the stage right now. They're lingering. They're with their wives, with their families.

We are standing by. We have a group -- a focus group in Ohio -- Columbus, Ohio -- of undecided voters. They will tell us what they thought. You saw those lines at the bottom of the screen, what they liked, what they didn't like, men and women. Erin Burnett is in Columbus with them. We also will have a scientific post-debate poll that will be coming out. We've asked a bunch of questions, including who won the debate. You'll hear the results. That's coming up fairly soon.

And we have a reality check, several reality checks, in fact. John Berman and Tom Foreman with our reality check team, they are standing by to point out factual errors: who was right, who was wrong. There was a lot to dissect right now. I think it's fair to say that this debate, the president came out and did what he failed to do in his first debate, sets the stage for debate No. 3 -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, certainly, I think Democrats are going to be a lot happier with his performance in this debate, certainly, than he was the first presidential debate. Let's get a reading from David Gergen, Gloria Borger, John King. David, what did you think?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Most improved, that aware certainly goes to Barack Obama. I think he had a much, much stronger debate tonight. You can read social media. There are lots of people out there, Democrats who are all fired up.

But I must tell you, I think that Mitt Romney has had two very good debates back to back. I think a solid performance tonight, and I think overall, he looked much more like he could be president than he did two weeks ago.

Overall, I tried to score it by the questions, and everybody will have different views of this. I had a lot of questions as draws, and a couple of questions that I thought that Romney did better on. I had a little bit more edge to the president. I gave him the edge.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think the Libya question was not a good moment for Governor Romney. I think otherwise, in the debate, both sides, as we said, after the vice-presidential debate, both sides left thinking they did what they wanted to do. There was zero question. Democrat intensity will come back. It gets back to the first presidential debate. The president did that part of it.

Governor Romney did a very good job of prosecuting against the incumbent's record. I think that's the question we can't answer tonight. We could score both of these candidates. It's very hard to understand what is the fundamental dynamic of the election right now.

Two weeks ago, it was about Governor Romney. He made it in the first debate about President Obama. He's still sort of quicksand out there. What is this? What are the American people deciding on election day? If you decided to keep the incumbent, then Obama's performance, that was probably better, if you will. But it will mean more on the electorate than it does as we score it.

This is a competitive election. It's a good debate, wow...

COOPER: Does this stop the slide that we've seen from President Obama the last couple weeks?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't know. GLORIA BORGER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We don't know, but I think this debate was so different that you could argue that, if it stopped the bleeding. You would sort of understand why. You would understand why.

KING: A little intensity (ph) coming up in just a little bit. It will slow the slide.

BORGER: But I will tell you, Mitt Romney's best moments were focusing on the economic record and saying the middle class has been buried many times, which we have heard before, and also we don't have to settle for this. Those were sort of key catch phrases.

For me, the president's best moments were Romney versus Romney. Romney in the primary, on immigration for example; Romney as governor on coal and energy and assault weapons; versus Romney now.

COOPER: Let's play one of those sound bites, actually on an exchange they had about oil. Let's have -- that will be the first one we look at.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Governor, we have actually produced more oil...

ROMNEY: No, no. How much did you cut licenses and permits on federal waters?

OBAMA: Governor Romney, here's what we did. There were a whole bunch of oil companies...

ROMNEY: Hold on. I had a question, and the question was how much did you cut them by?

OBAMA: You want me to answer a question.

ROMNEY: How much did you cut them by?

OBAMA: I'm happy to answer the question.

ROMNEY: All right. And it is?

OBAMA: Here is what happened.

ROMNEY: The right course for America is to have a true all-of- the-above policy. I don't think anyone really believes that you're a person who's going to be pushing for oil and gas and coal.

You'll get your chance in a moment. I'm still speaking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: And let's take a look. There's another bite also, another exchange they had on coal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) OBAMA: When I hear Governor Romney say he's a big coal guy, and keep in mind when, Governor, when you were governor of Massachusetts, you stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, "This plant kills" and took great pride in shutting it down, and now suddenly you're a big champion of goal.

So what I've tried to do is be consistent. With respect to something like coal, we made the largest investment in clean coal technology to make sure that, even as we're producing more coal, we're producing it cleaner and smarter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: They were targeting. Some Republicans I was corresponding with felt that Romney dominated the stage in some of those exchanges. And some Democrats I was talking to felt that he was being rude to, or disrespectful to the president. Again, people seeing...

KING: Welcome to polarized America. Most -- most people are going to watch through their partisan prism. The question is, what is that small group. A, the question, No. 1, is did they do the business with their base? They have to do that. It's the most important aspect of both of these candidates, because the undecided slice is so small. The most important thing is to keep all of yours, to turn them out and keep them energized.

But then there is that small slice, and how does that play?

I thought the president, the president tactically was being smart tonight, and decides that if you go through where he has started to slump, especially in the state of Ohio, the China attacks and the coal attacks from Governor Romney are working. And the president came tonight to rebut them. The gender gap has closed some. The president came tonight to get -- whether it was contraception, whether it was equal pay, to talk about whether he came in tonight, knowing where the bleeding was, trying to stop it.

COOPER: Interesting. You also said that the Libya question did not work out well for Governor Romney, even though the president didn't really answer the question that was asked about the consulate in Benghazi. Although the gentleman called it an embassy in Benghazi. But -- but you were saying it worked out for President Obama because President Obama was forceful in his response?

KING: No question, there are legitimate policy questions and chain of command and communication questions about what happened there. However, when Governor Romney jumped up to interject, the president did use the word "terror" that day after, and the governor said he didn't. So on that point, you sort of had this moment where...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Candy Crowley actually...

KING: Candy fact checked him in front of the American people.

And Romney right about a lot of what he said. The president went before the United Nations, I believe six times in his speech mentioned the YouTube video and the administration -- other people in the administration at that time knew it had nothing to do with the YouTube video. There was a very -- there were very legitimate questions about the inner command, the communication, the interagency cooperation about that. No question there are questions for the president, and...

BORGER: I thought that...

KING: ... just that one moment, where there was just a little bit of a deer in the headlights.

BORGER: I thought the president was actually the angriest, the most visibly angered on Libya, where he said that is offensive.

COOPER: Well, it was interesting to see the lines of undecided voters just on our screen. They went way up just in the strength of his response.

BORGER: He said, "That's not the way I do business as commander in chief. These are people's lives. I know these people. I'm responsible for them. I see them when they come back and talk."

COOPER: Let's bring in our contributors, Republicans and Democrats, too, because I know they are champing at the bit, too.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Listen, this was -- the president of the United States was the president of the United States tonight. He -- there are only two things I think that people are looking for. One is, are you a strong leader? And are you on my side?

He was clearly a strong leader tonight. He was passionate. He was focused, and I thought when he went over the line, when Romney went over the line and challenged his integrity, disregard for the people that died, and the president stood up and said, "That's not who I am," that will -- I think that will go down as one of the great moments of an American debate.

And beyond that, I think Romney may have hurt himself with women. Here, the question is about equal pay for equal work. Romney, the only thing he says is that, when he's 50 years old, he heard there was a problem, and he wants to figure out ways for moms to get home on time to cook dinner.

That is not the right answer to that question. I'm sorry. The right answer is that America's government should be a partner for American mothers to make sure by law...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Let's keep going. Alex, I just want to get a quick response.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think I've begun to figure out who Van's going to vote for.

I thought a lot of women in America saw a debate tonight where two high school jocks were -- didn't like each other very much, and I'm not sure they're going to be turned on by this debate.

As much as I love the first debate, I thought this one was less. Obama was angry. He had daggers in his eyes for Mitt Romney all night long. His pitch went up as this debate started. He was -- You know what? I thought Mitt Romney was not as strong a lot of the debate as President Obama was. He was in control a little more than Romney, but I thought Mitt Romney was much more pleasant, much more like somebody you would have in your living room more often than you would Obama.

DEE DEE MYERS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Shockingly, I disagree a little bit with that. President Obama came in and accomplished what he needed to do, strategically and tactically. He needed to present a narrative. He needed to convince the country he had a plan for the second term.

And he came out of the box and talked about his plan for manufacturing, education, balanced -- you know, balanced approach to deficit reduction, investing excess money in infrastructure and other things that will help the economy go. We haven't heard about that in the last debate.

So I think he achieved strategically what he needed to do. It was energetic. He fought for the American people for the middle class.

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It struck me that this was -- in terms of what they said, a flat-out draw. The governor was extremely effective in making the litany in that soft-spoken way of all the things that President Obama promised and failed to do, to cut the debt in half, et cetera. The president was very good, particularly in light of the last debate, punching back at Romney's president's record.

What the president never did -- this is where I give the edge to Mitt Romney. He didn't talk about the future. He did not talk about it his specific plans, what he would do in the second term. He doesn't have it. His whole campaign has to be to take Mitt Romney down. That only gets you so far.

COOPER: David.

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: I agree and disagree. Look, I think that -- I think that President Obama did exactly what a lot of Democrats had wanted him to do for a long time: to punch back, to point out the holes and go through those holes. I thought he did that very, very effectively. On top of his game.

Come back to Mitt Romney. I thought he actually had a better strategy, indeed, than the president, because he kept on coming back to jobs, and he was most effective when he talked about that, which is priority.

MYERS: I don't think he needed to go the same way he did in the first debate, so I don't think he presented an overarching vision that people felt like they understood, watching that debate. At the end of it, he felt like a guy who had a little bit of this, little bit of that. But he didn't have the big narrative.

COOPER: We see Mitt Romney and his wife talking with the crowd. Our expert team of producers and researchers have been doing a lot of fact checking. Let's go to Wolf for that -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We certainly have been doing a lot of fact checking, because a lot of facts were supposedly stated. Some were, in fact, facts. Maybe others not necessarily so. They're trying to figure out whether the candidates were actually telling the truth in tonight's debate.

John Berman's ready with the first of several reality checks -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Wolf. We already talked about that explosive exchange on oil drilling and energy production on federal land. Let's try to shed some light on it. Mitt Romney claimed that under President Obama, production on government land is down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Production on government land is down.

OBAMA: No, it isn't.

ROMNEY: Production on government land of oil is down 14 percent. And production of gas is down 9 percent.

OBAMA: It's just not true.

ROMNEY: It's absolutely true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So what are the facts? You heard 14 percent there. The Department of Energy says production on federal levels dropped from 2 million barrels a day in 2010 to 1.8 million a day in the last year available. That's 2011. They attributed that largely to the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf.

So our verdict on that slender little part, the 14 percent drop, on the last available year, is true but misleading. It doesn't tell the whole story of oil production on federal lands, because on oil the president made his own claims about production on federal lands.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We've opened up public lands. We're actually drilling more on public lands than the previous administration. And the previous president was an oil man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So even with the one-year drop in production we just told you about on federal lands, there has been more drilling per year during the Obama administration than during the last term of the Bush administration. So our verdict on what the president said is true. So you can see they went after each other here, really cherry picking their own facts -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We have much more reality checks coming up. Thanks, John, very much. Let's go to the spin room out there, Hofstra University. Jessica Yellin has got a guest first -- Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. That's right. I'm in the spin room here with David Plouffe, who is one of the president's most senior advisers, both in the White House and on the campaign, David. You have to be feeling good tonight. Much better than after the last debate. The president was far less polite, let's say, tonight.

Do you -- I'm sure you believe he reversed his slide, at least. He stopped the slide. What do you think he specifically accomplished? Did he close the gap with women?

DAVID PLOUFFE, OBAMA SENIOR ADVISOR: Well, we have a nice -- a very significant lead with women and have during the duration of this campaign.

But the president had a dominant performance here. I think he laid out very clearly where he wants to take the country economically, his jobs plan, his plan to grow the economy based on the middle class and exposed Governor Romney, tax plans, jobs plan, and the president said it's a sketchy deal.

And I think Governor Romney wilted under the scrutiny. And there were very important moments in the discussion about Libya, obviously. I think Governor Romney looked like someone playing politics, and I think the president looked like a resolute commander in chief. I thought the discussion about women's health was a very important here.

So these are important issues. We have 21 days left. This is going to be a close campaign. But we think the president made real progress tonight in really animating the differences between these two candidates.

YELLIN: One of the consistent themes throughout the night was the president arguing that Mitt Romney was not fully honest. Is there a challenge for the president in making the campaign too much at this point about Mitt Romney and not enough about what President Barack Obama would do for Americans in a second term.

PLOUFFE: Well, Jessica, you've been out on the campaign trail this one (ph). Out there, tonight, the president laid out his jobs plan, how he could reduce the deficit, his foreign policy vision. So I think the president every day is spending most of his time talking about where he wants to take this country. But there are big differences.

And you know, I thought a remarkable moment. Governor Romney could not have been more dishonest when he said he does not support limiting contraception. He supported legislation that would have allowed employers to make those decisions for women. We're going to make sure every voter in America, every women's voter knows that over the next 21 days.

So I thought there was big differences today on how these candidates both viewed growing the economy. Governor Romney is top down. Barack Obama is middle out.

YELLIN: All right. And just very quickly, if you would, last debate. You guys predicted in the spin room that, if it was going to have an effect, the president's poor performance was going to have an effect. We'd see it in the polls. We did. Do you think this performance will show up in the polls? Do you think the president will start doing better in the next two or three days?

PLOUFFE: Listen, we've always thought this was going to be a close race. I said that night, by the way, you'd see it in Ohio, in Iowa, Nevada. So when you show me Governor Romney winning those states, then I'll listen to you about his momentum. Governor Romney does not have a credible electoral path to the presidency, and I think that was made a lot harder tonight.

YELLIN: Are we seeing a movement in Ohio coming in the next five days, five days, week?

PLOUFFE: We have liked where we've been in those states for a long time, but we're going to be close. We've built a great campaign. People are voting in those states. We like what we're seeing. The president is going to go out in the next 21 days and fight has hard as he can for the states that are so important for the country and the middle class.

YELLIN: OK. You're not saying -- all right, well, thanks so much, David Plouffe.

And you can see just how important especially the women's vote is for this campaign. That is why they are hitting so hard, especially, on this contraception issue -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jessica, thank you. Thanks.

From one part of the spin room to another part of the spin room. Jim Acosta is with the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, who's a major supporter of Romney -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Actually, this is Governor Jindal's first appearance in a post-debate spin room. So we appreciate your time, Governor.

I'm sure you feel that Governor Romney won the first debate. How about tonight? Did he go 2-2? GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Absolutely. Look, a couple things. President Obama spent exactly no time at all speaking about any specific plans for a second term, but one of the most telling questions was, when the voters said, "I voted for you four years ago. Why should I vote for you now?"

Look at all of the broken promises. You look at what the president promised. He promised he would cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term. Hasn't done that; over $1 trillion a year in debt. Promised to get the economy turned around in a term. In three years, it would be a one-term proposition. Twenty-three million under employed/unemployed Americans.

Promises to cut health-care premiums $2,500. They've gone up $2,500. Broken promise after broken promise. Not once did he say what he was going to do in the second term.

The other point that I thought was very powerful was when talking about the Libya situation. Now the president owes us a clear explanation of what happened there, and to make sure it doesn't happen again, and we would get the perpetrators. Think about this.

ACOSTA: Let me ask you -- let me ask you about that. At one point during the debate, we saw Governor Romney chime in and say that the president did not refer to that attack on the consulate in Benghazi as a -- as an exact of terror. When you go back and look at what the president said in the Rose Garden on September the 12th, he does refer to it as an act of terror.

Do you think Governor Romney stumbled there?

JINDAL: Not at all. When you actually look at the transcript and not only that, look at the speech he gave to the United Nations several days later, he referenced the video on YouTube six different times. We've heard three different explanations from the White House. We heard ambassador rice speak again to the TV cameras on Sunday after the incident, and this is the first explanation. This is...

ACOSTA: He had his facts wrong in that one moment of the debate. He was -- he was -- inaccurate.

JINDAL: No, no, actually the -- the president used the word "act of terror" generally, didn't identify it specifically. Later, it was said it was not premeditated act of terrorism.

Let's go back and look what the White House said about this attack. First, it was out in response to the video. At the U.N., he six different times referenced that video.

Then second, they said, well, it was a response to the video, but then there was an act of terrorism spontaneously occurred.

Then their third explanation was it was an act of terrorism, no response to the video, no protests.

So the reality is the president, the administration's explanation was happened, has now changed three different times.

ACOSTA: Let me ask you about the body language during this debate, because they both got sort of in each other's personal space at a couple of points during this debate. Did you expect that?

JINDAL: Look I don't blame the president. Obviously, last debate didn't show up. This debate, I'm sure his advisers told him drink all the Red Bull and caffeine you can.

The problem is not his oratorial skills. Obama's record. You can combine their speaking talents of presidents Reagan, Lincoln, and Winston Churchill. Prime Minister Churchill. And he still couldn't defend his record. So I wasn't surprised he was more aggressive. He still couldn't cover up a failed four years and the fact he has no policies for the next four years.

ACOSTA: All right, Governor Jindal. Thank you very much for your time.

Wolf, back to you. It sounds like, from the governor's standpoint, the president had his Red Bull. And from the sound of it, I think Governor Jindal did as well.

Back to you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I'm not surprised. Both campaigns are claiming victory right now.

And we want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, we're in the CNN Election Center, for comprehensive analysis of tonight's second debate between President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney. It was a much, much more contentious encounter than their first debate. There were times when both candidates really went after each other.

And we're going to be very interested to see the results of our scientific poll of debate watchers, people who actually watch the debate. We're going to find out who they think won, that's coming up in a little bit.

Also, our reality check team headed by John Berman and Tom Foreman. They will continue to pore through the candidates' answers. We're trying to get to the bottom of who was right and who was wrong.

Also, Erin Burnett standing by with uncommitted voters in the very important swing state of Ohio. We're going to show you the points during the debate when they gave the candidates the highest and the lowest marks.

We're also waiting to speak with our own Candy Crowley. She was the moderator of this rather contentious debate. I'm anxious to hear her thoughts. You will hear what Candy has to say about this debate first right here in -- on CNN.

During tonight's debate, President Obama renewed his attack of Mitt Romney's tax plan, accusing him of simply not explaining how he'd pay for lowering tax rates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When he's asked, how are you going to do it, which deductions, which loopholes are you going to close? He can't tell you. The fact that he only has to pay 14 percent on his taxes, when a lot of you are paying much higher, he's already taken that off the board, capital gains are going to continue to be at a low rate. So we -- we're not going to get money that way.

We haven't heard from the governor any specifics beyond Big Bird and eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood in terms of how he pays for that.

Now, Governor Romney was a very successful investor.

If somebody came to you, Governor, with a plan that said, here, I want to spend you $7 or $8 trillion, and we're going to pay for it, but we can't tell you until maybe after the election how we're going to do it, you wouldn't have taken such a sketchy deal. And neither should you, the American people. Because the math doesn't add up.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Of course they add up. I was -- I was someone who ran businesses for 25 years and balanced the budget. I ran the Olympics, and balanced the budget. I ran the state of Massachusetts as a governor, to the extent any governor does, and balanced the budget all four years.

When we're talking about math that doesn't add up, how about $4 trillion of deficits over the last four years? $5 trillion? That's math that doesn't add up. We have -- we have a president talking about someone's plan in a way that's completely foreign to what my real plan is. And then we have his own record, which is we have four consecutive years where he said, when he was running for office, he would cut the deficit in half.

Instead, he's doubled it. We've gone from $10 trillion of national debt to $16 trillion of national debt. If the president were re-elected, we'd go to almost $20 trillion of national debt. This puts us on the road to Greece.

I know what it takes to balance budgets. I've done it my entire life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A little taste of the flavor. A little taste of what was going on during this debate.

I want to go to Soledad O'Brien, she's standing by right with a very special guest. Our own Candy Crowley.

Before you say a word, I'll just say, Candy, job well done.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. I'll second that. You know, it's interesting, we're waiting to hear what the polls have to say about who won or who lost this debate.

But, Candy, I'm curious from your perspective, it felt from here very contentious, not just between the two men who are on the stage, but also sometimes they were turning on you, and trying to over-talk you, and at one point, I think it was Governor Romney who said no, when you -- you made some point.

And how did it feel from your vantage point?

CANDY CROWLEY, DEBATE MODERATOR: I actually didn't. I knew the -- there is so much at stake, there's so little time. I expected them actually to come at me when I tried to kind of rein them in, and also you don't want to be -- when they're going, I don't want to have some, you know, sort of -- here's an artificial, you all need to be quiet right now, so there's this kind of balance you're trying to strike, and they just want to get in everything that they've ever known that even possibly has to do with the subject.

So I didn't take it personally or anything, I just took it -- and I don't think they even meant it personally, but when they first started and it was an energy question, who knew? I thought they --

O'BRIEN: Right.

CROWLEY: I thought maybe tax -- just something, but boy, and I just thought, you know -- and we were so over by the -- I mean over time, but they were so good sort of being in each other's face, and saying no, that's not true. And I thought, well, that's a debate. So here we go. So it didn't -- I didn't take it personally at all, and I thought the first part of it especially was fun to watch, and hopefully enlightening to people.

O'BRIEN: Very, very interesting, I though. You told everybody at the beginning there's no clapping, turn off your BlackBerrys, turn off your cell phones. There was a moment when people clapped. Actually sort of two moments under the same question, which is about Libya. They were just talking about it, Wolf and Anderson, just a moment ago. And it was when the president said that he stood in the Rose Garden and said this was an act of terror, and the actually quote that he said on that day, the day after the act was, "no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation," and went on from there.

In a way you had to fact-check on both sides.

CROWLEY: Right. Well, I knew that the president has said act of terror, because this has kind of come up before, and also I heard him that day. And what Mitt Romney was going for, and I think where he tripped himself up was that he picked that one wrong fact. The president did call it or refer to it in some ways an act of terror, and so it felt as though -- and the president kept looking at me going, you know, and I thought, well, I did know then, I said, you know, he did call it an act of terror. That's what caused the applause.

O'BRIEN: But then this side over here -- CROWLEY: Right. On this side over here, which is clearly the --

O'BRIEN: Then you fact-checked again.

CROWLEY: And then I said, but you are correct that they didn't know for a couple of weeks that it wasn't related to the tape and there was no riot outside the consulate, so -- and that side of the room clapped.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: I wasn't trying to get them to clap, I was trying to sort of -- you know, bring some kind of clarity to the conversation.

O'BRIEN: We should mention, behind us, they are beginning to clear the stage back here a little bit.

CROWLEY: Yes.

O'BRIEN: You know, uncommitted voters and politicians.

CROWLEY: Yes.

O'BRIEN: You can barely pry them apart obviously because they would love to have every of those -- every one of those. So Wolf wants to jump and ask a question, Candy.

BLITZER: Yes, Candy, what was your -- the biggest surprise for you during the course of this debate?

CROWLEY: Probably how easily you could go -- you know, on the Sunday show, I like having a little time. And I said, 7 1/2 minutes to discuss immigration, that seemed like an OK amount of time, but we wanted to get to guns, and we wanted to get to, you know, so many things we didn't have a chance to get to.

But it goes so quickly, even when they're kind of within their time constraints. So -- and somebody told me before I went in, this will be over before you know it. And it just was amazing to me how I looked up and I thought I've got five things I want to ask all of them. So you have to make that choice, do I ask them that or do we try to get in all of these questions? You know, and I tried to opt mostly for getting in all these questions. So I just think that the time flies thing really did take me by surprise.

O'BRIEN: I know Anderson has a question as well for you, Candy.

COOPER: Yes, Candy, just as a moderator, you often catch things that, you know, the cameras are trained on both these men the full time, the kind of the electricity of being on the stage. The level of personal animosity, was it palpable? Did it -- did it feel like there was personal animosity between these two?

CROWLEY: You know, I know it -- as you know, the camera kind of enlarges things, but I have to say, sitting on that stage, I didn't feel like it was personal animosity. I felt like the calendar was closing in on these guys. Remember the next debate is all about foreign policy, so they knew this was their last kind of chance to do it. So I thought they were both incredibly intense, they both came to play, but I didn't totally get this kind of "we hate each other" vibe from them at all. I just got an urgency vibe from the both of them.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, you know, Candy, I know normally when you are not moderating a debate, you're watching the social media feeds, you're watching Twitter. And I will tell what was going on, particularly on the Libya question is conservatives were saying Libya, Libya, Libya, please, because they thought that was the best moment, possible moment for Romney to really take a whack at the president.

And he didn't seem to. He really seemed to -- it really seemed to be one of those moments that conservatives were disappointed in Mitt Romney. But that sort of leads me to my question, which is, you called through all of these questions that this -- undeclared voters brought in this morning. I know that this was such a big concern of yours. How do you decide which ones to choose?

CROWLEY: It's funny, because it was not one thing that decided everything. It was kind of a multitude of things. We wanted to cover subjects that may be folks hadn't heard about but still were interested in and I think --

O'BRIEN: Immigration, gun control, and women's issues.

CROWLEY: Gun control and immigration and women's issues were the three big ones. Climate change, I had that question. All you climate change people. We just -- you know, again, we knew that the economy was still the main thing, so you knew you kind of wanted to go with the economy, maybe the gas prices again was something that hadn't come up. So -- that was part of it. Part of it was kind of a variety of questions that were important but had not yet been kind of fully aired at least in this large of a forum.

The next question, you know, was to make sure that we had some variety in, we didn't want all white guys or all white women, or -- you know, we tried to get some kind of -- with what we were given, some kind of variety in the questions. And we also were, you know, thinking of where are they going to go with this that's new.

O'BRIEN: All right. We're going to continue this conversation. We have lots of questions to ask Candy Crowley.

Let's get back to Wolf who's got an interview now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, I want to go back to the spin room, Jessica Yellin is standing. Jessica has got a special guest. The senator from Massachusetts, John Kerry, who played, played Mitt Romney in the debate rehearsals for the president.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, and Senator Kerry right here with me now.

You must be no doubt pleased tonight. The president much more aggressive this time. Some people observing that both men were quite in one another's face at times.

What were your thoughts on this?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I -- look, everybody is going to expect me to say that the president did well. But I think the president overwhelmed Mitt Romney tonight with facts and with a vision for the future.

Let me just be very specific. On Libya. Mitt Romney tried to suggest -- he didn't say what it was. The president -- and Candy Crowley backed him up. Called it an act of terror. What happened in Benghazi was an act of terror. What happened in New York on September 11th was an act of terror. And the Republicans are trying to play a game, saying that's not a terrorist attack.

Please, if that's what they're doing, they lost this debate. And they're clearly playing games.

Now let me go further. On taxes. The president made it clear Mitt Romney's tax plan does not add up. $8 trillion is not reduced by $2.5 trillion of tax deductions. And Mitt Romney keeps insisting that if he just says it won't raise the deficit, it won't.

Sorry, Mitt, the math says otherwise . And you can't talk your way out of that.

On women, he said that -- you know, he tried to disavow that he was going to get rid of the right to have contraception paid for. He supported the Blunt amendment in the United States Senate that would have done that. Now he's changing.

I -- you just can't trust this guy.

YELLIN: May I ask -- because the president did make these points that Romney has been inconsistent in his view. Do you -- are you worried at all that it could be perceived that the president is too aggressive in a sense, too on the attack, overcorrecting in a way for last week's debate?

KERRY: Not in the least. The president could have been more aggressive tonight given some of the things that Mitt Romney said. I thought he was -- you know, he held back on a few occasions. You know, you -- this is the presidency of the United States. This is the future of our country. It deserves candidates who tell the truth and talk facts.

Mitt Romney keeps changing. I -- we know this in Massachusetts. I mean it tells you a lot that in the state that he was the governor of, he can't even contest this race. Massachusetts knows him well, and he's losing by about 25 points. Why? Because everybody in Massachusetts knows he did different things. He lost 45,000 manufacturing jobs, he raised the taxes on --

YELLIN: OK.

KERRY: You know, the middle class. He round up -- YELLIN: I have to throw it back to Wolf. I think --

(CROSSTALK)

KERRY: OK. But I'm telling you, in the next days, all of these inconsistencies and untruths we'll see. Tonight the Mitt Romney campaign began to unravel formally and publicly and dramatically.

YELLIN: Senator Kerry, thank you so much for your time.

And, Wolf, you can hear the message very consistent with the president there. Making the case that he is changing positions if you didn't get that from that interview already.

BLITZER: We heard it -- we heard it directly.

I want to stay in the spin room. Jim Acosta has Senator Rob Portman with him. Senator Portman played the president in all of Mitt Romney's dress rehearsals as well.

Go ahead, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And I just want to pick up on what Senator Kerry was just saying a few moments ago to our Jessica Yellin. He says that tonight is the night when Governor Romney's campaign started unraveling, is that your take?

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: No.

(LAUGHTER)

Look, John Kerry is a friend of mind, but I think he's been playing this role-playing a little bit too long. It's not unraveling at all. What's unraveling unfortunately is the president's policies. I mean look at it in terms of the Middle East, it's not just Libya, it's also what's happening in Egypt, what's happening in Syria, Iran four years closer to getting a bomb.

What's happening in the -- in the Mideast in general has not been something that's been successful. We just (INAUDIBLE) ourselves in Israel, that's unraveled. You know, with regard to domestic policies, I can't do a better job than Mitt Romney did, he was terrific tonight. You know, he laid out the case. And the voter who asked, why is it going to be better for me in the next four years?

I thought Mitt Romney had a perfect response. He said, look, this is what's happened. It was -- a devastating critique, and then he said, and what's the president offering? More of the same. And instead, Mitt Romney offered a pro-growth economic agenda to bring back jobs, $12 million new jobs.

ACOSTA: Let me ask you because the president was much more aggressive tonight, much more so than that first debate. Did you prepare him enough, Governor Romney, for that coming? PORTMAN: Well, look, we all knew the president would be more aggressive tonight. The president said he was going to be. And I think his base probably appreciated that. I don't think the undecided voter in Ohio thought he was very effective. But the president was on the attack, he came out swinging, he said he was going to do that.

You can change your style, but that doesn't change your record. And he didn't defend it tonight when Mitt Romney went through that litany of higher food stamps, more people on poverty, unemployment zone. The president didn't have an answer. And then secondly, he hasn't changed his vision for the future. I don't --

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: So was it a good moment, though, for Governor Romney when he asked the president, have you checked your pension lately, and the president responded, well, have you checked yours, yours is much better than mine? I mean it seems that he sort of gave the president an open shot there?

PORTMAN: Well, the president he was making is that, the president was attacking. He was on the attack and he was saying, gosh, you have investments in China, well, so does the president apparently in his pension. And the president may not have known that but Mitt Romney made that point.

So that was just an opportunity to say look, that's not the issue in this campaign. The issue in this campaign is who's going to help middle class families get ahead. Who's going to get this economy back on track and Mitt Romney laid out a clear agenda for that. I mean he had a vision tonight.

ACOSTA: On the attack on the consulate in Libya, we had that moment there where our moderator, Candy Crowley, corrected Governor Romney and said, no, the president in that Rose Garden address did refer an act of terror in Benghazi. I talked to Bobby Jindal earlier and he said, well, that was sort of a general reference to an act of terror.

PORTMAN: Look --

ACOSTA: Is that -- is that what the Romney campaign's response at this point?

PORTMAN: Jim, we're all going to go back and look at the record here. He used the words "act of terror" in a general sense, but, listen, for five days they said just opposite. I mean how can you say anything than that? Five days later, you had the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations on all of the shows, including yours, saying this was not an act of terrorism, this was in response to a YouTube video, was a demonstration.

Why did they do that? That's the question. It's troubling. What's more troubling is, why wasn't the security there? So I don't think Benghazi helps the president.

ACOSTA: All right, Senator, thanks very much. Thanks for your time.

PORTMAN: Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: We appreciate it.

And as you can tell, Wolf, this back and forth over that attack in Libya is going to continue even after tonight's debate, Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, I'll just read the exact quote, what the president said on that day after the attack, he said, "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for."

Jim, thanks very much.

We're also awaiting the results of our poll of tonight's debate watchers. This is a scientific poll. You'll see the results here. First, who do you think won, who do they think won? Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, our expert team of producers and researchers, reporters, has been busy figuring out whether the candidates were telling the truth in tonight's debate.

John Berman is back with another reality check -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we've all been talking about that Benghazi moments. We wanted to lay out the facts here.

The president claims that the day after the attacks there, he did call it an act of terror. Romney seemed to suggest he did not. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: There were other issues associated with this -- with this tragedy. There were many days that passed before we knew whether this was a spontaneous demonstration or actually whether it was a terrorist attack.

OBAMA: The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now Romney went on to disagree. So what are the facts? Let's listen carefully to what the president said in the Rose Garden the morning after the attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for.

Today, we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waiver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Now you heard it right there, he called it an act of terror so our verdict here is true. However, in the days that follow, in the weeks that followed, President Obama flat-out avoided using the word terrorism, he's asked directly and this doesn't get into the issue of how long the administration blamed the film, but the day after, in the Rose Garden, he did call it an act of terror -- Wolf.

BLITZER: John, thank you.

Both of the candidates talked about their plans for reducing the deficit. Our Tom Foreman has a reality check on that -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, these candidates have made the deficit a cornerstone of this election. The difference between how much money the United States government is spending and how much it was taking in in tax revenue, and they did indeed talk about it tonight. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I'll get us on track to a balanced budget. And I'm going to reduce the tax burden on middle income families. And what's that going to do? It's going to help those families and it's going to create incentives to start growing jobs again in this country.

OBAMA: If we're serious about reducing the deficit, if this is genuinely a moral obligation to the next generation, then in addition to some tough spending cuts, we've also got to make sure that the wealthy do a little bit more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FOREMAN: This is the deficit for this year, $1.9 trillion. If we were all just going to pay it right now, every man, woman, and child in the country would have to kick in about $3500. So it's a whopping problem, and yet each candidate effective said tonight what they've said all along, I can reduce the deficit.

How can they do that? Well, they agree on certain things. We're going to have to control spending at the government level. We're going to have to rewrite the tax code, we're going to have to get the economy really moving, because that's what's going to create all that revenue that will solve the problem.

But beyond that, they don't agree much.

Let's look at the Romney plan. If this was everything that Mitt Romney wants to spend on running the government the way he would like to, and this is all the money he needed, he's not going to get it. He's going to have a deficit. Less money.

How is he going to fill the gap? With tax cuts. Now tax cuts initially will make the deficit worse. So he says he's going to offset those with deductions. He's going to go after the deductions, the loopholes out there, things that people use to avoid paying taxes.

He likes to suggest he's not going to go after things like mortgages or health care deductions, things that a lot of middle class people rely on. But that's the problem. The economists who looked at this, some of them have said, even as you gather all the other possible deductions from richer people, and you bring them back over here, it's not going to be enough. Eventually you're going to have to hit the middle class or you're going to watch this deficit just get bigger and bigger -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So what about President Obama's plan? Does it hold up to scrutiny, Tom, any better than Mitt Romney's plan?

FOREMAN: Let's look at that. He has the same thing. He's got a plan of spending things that he would like to do. He'd like to have all this money to cover it, he won't. He'll also have a deficit. How does he want to deal with this? Said it again tonight. Let's tax the wealthy more.

This is a popular idea in polls, but look at the problem that it has. There aren't that many wealthy people in the country. Let's talk about people making more than $200,000 individually. For every one there is who makes that much money, this is how many there are who don't make that much.

You would actually have to tax this person at a much higher level than what the White House is suggesting if you want to really make up much difference in this pile over here. The truth is, that's a level they're not willing to talk about, and the president said the math doesn't add up, and Mitt Romney's plan, the math doesn't really add up in either one of these plans based on the details we have so far.

We need many, many more. So this basic claim from both sides, I can reduce the deficit, we're going to give a big grade of I for incomplete. Neither one has given enough answers to give us much faith in them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Tom, even if we did have all the details and we clearly don't, it seems to me that both of these candidates would face huge political problems passing anything like they would really want to.

FOREMAN: Absolutely. There's a political reality here that almost anyone in the country can see. Congress right now as we know is divided. The House is under the control of the Republicans, the Senate is under the control of the Democrats. Unless this election unites these houses and the White House, unless one party controls everything, it is very hard to see, how you're going to get agreements to approve either one of these plans, which makes the future for dealing with the deficit at least right now with these candidates, Wolf, it looks pretty bleak. BLITZER: Tom, I love these reality checks. You and John doing an excellent job.

Let's go back to Anderson.

COOPER: Thanks very much, Wolf. You know, this whole acts of terror thing, I mean, I don't think it is as clear a slam dunk as the Obama campaign would like it to be. I mean in his speech, he wasn't saying this was an act of terror, previous to the paragraph where he said acts of terror, he's been talking about 9/11 and obviously the killing of four Americans. He didn't reference to that video in particular but I do think it's open to debate. I can -- I can see why the Romney campaign is --

(CROSSTALK)

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: By misspeaking about exactly what the president said the day after, Governor Romney is now -- he's in this fact-check environment where this should be a problem for the president. This should not be a problem for what Governor Romney said in the debate because he was wrong about -- did the president did generically refer to an act of terror the day after, we are correcting --

COOPER: Right.

KING: Candy corrected Governor Romney on the spot, and so we're having a question of well, what did Governor Romney as opposed to what did the administration do. So Governor Romney's choice of words there was a poor one. And so he's being fact-checked, and that takes something away from him. I would make this argument. This is going to be done in studios like this in Washington and in New York. And we're going to talk about it.

Our undecided voters out there in the country, that small size of undecided voters in the battleground state going to make their decision based on what happened in Libya or based on who they think has a better economic plan, I vote the latter.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I totally agree. I mean, this is a murky situation. I think Candy had it right. Romney clearly got it wrong on one fact, but there's the bigger story. But surely we're not going to spend a lot of time on -- you know, trying to straighten or litigate this thing.

COOPER: Let's actually going to bring --

GERGEN: There's so much bigger issues.

COOPER: Let's bring in Candy, though.

Candy, because I mean, this was a moment which obviously now both campaigns are going to be focusing on. Tell us your thoughts during that moment. CROWLEY: Well, you know, again, I heard the president's speech at the time. I sort of re-read a lot of stuff about Libya because I knew we'd probably get a Libya question, so I kind of wanted to be up on it. So we knew that the president had said, you know, these acts of terror won't stand or whatever the whole quote was.

And I think, actually, you know, because right after that, I did turn around and say, but you are totally correct that they spent two weeks telling us this was about a tape and that there was a -- you know, this riot outside the Benghazi consulate, which there wasn't.

So he was right in the main, I just think he picked the wrong word. And I -- you know, they're going to parse and we all know about what the definition of is is, but, you know, in the end, I think John's probably right. I think there's a lot more to do with jobs and the debt crisis, and all of that kind of stuff. I just think probably it was one of those moments, and I could even feel that here.

You know, when you say something, you're not expecting, it just that was the natural thing -- going, actually, he did -- you know, call it an act of terror, when, you know, half the crowd claps for that and the other half claps for, but they kept telling us this was a -- caused by a tape. So I -- you know, in the main, the trust of Governor -- what Governor Romney was saying, which is why I went back and said that, but I just think he picked the wrong kind of way to go about talking about, if that makes sense.

COOPER: Yes. John?

KING: Candy, it's John. You're sitting right there, one of our questions going in, neither candidate looked at his watch. Neither candidate went over and hugged one of voters in the audience, but one of the questions was, you know --

CROWLEY: No.

KING: Who of them might make the better connection? Governor Romney used their names frequently, circled back to them. The president did that. Did you get a sense there from -- as you're sitting, I know you're preparing the next question, but from those voters in the -- on the stage there with you, did any of them think that one candidate did better than the other in connecting?

CROWLEY: I don't think they actually did, to tell you the truth. And I -- you know, I really did get the sense -- we spent some time with them today. Their uncommittedness was certainly genuine, or so it seemed to us, and I think they were so all so pleased to be there, and they were so kind of in awe of the process that afterwards it was, like, wasn't this great, you know, didn't we like it when the governor said this, oh and then the president said that.

So they were talking about the exchanges. They -- one guy said, I thought for a minute they were going to hit each other.

(LAUGHTER) And I actually never felt that, I told you, you know, I didn't -- I didn't feel like that was like personal animosity. But they definitely felt all of those things that in 90 minutes are, you know, you're up and it feels tense, it goes down, it takes a little lull, it goes back up again. But I don't -- I think that they enjoyed the scene.

O'BRIEN: From here, it felt very contentious. I thought --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: The two of them were really --

BASH: I got that same sense.

CROWLEY: Right.

BASH: Just from sitting up here, I was -- I was looking at them, thinking who's going to --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Right. They're very close to each other.

CROWLEY: Right.

O'BRIEN: They seemed very hostile toward each other, and I actually thought hostile and sometimes back to you when they wouldn't answer the questions or even some of the audience members whose questions was sort of be ignored while they say, well, let me answer what I'm going to answer first.

(CROSSTALK)

CROWLEY: My Chinese currency here a minute. Wait.

BASH: Yes, and you know, Candy, one of the things that you are rightly being applauded for is not letting them get away with things. You tried. Sometimes both of them tried to -- tried to run you over.

CROWLEY: There were so many times that both of them got away.

BASH: Right.

CROWLEY: It's kind of like --

BASH: But you tried. But you tried. But I think it would be interesting for the audience to know that you made sure that you were in a physical position to do that.

CROWLEY: One of the things that struck me. And I think Jim Lehrer had, certainly the debate that he wanted to have and the two of them had great exchanges on a lot of subjects, but I thought when I looked at it, that it is so hard to take command of a stage when you're sitting down and they're towering over you, so when I came in and saw the stage, and I -- I also have back problems, so I will say that.

But I said I want to stand. I want to stand up because we're on the same level. Remember Jim Lehrer was down. Looked like an orchestra pit. You know, I was in the -- in the hall that day, and he was so much lower than they were. So I wanted to be able, when I could, to say, we're done, it's actually this person's turn and at least be in some kind of --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: And being up high helped you do that.

CROWLEY: Up higher helped me at least feel like they had to somehow -- now they still ignored me at times, but they -- you know, I felt like they had to contend with me in a way.

COOPER: Hey, Candy --

BASH: In some ways -- when it comes to the way the viewers saw them, it was at their peril that they ignored you.

COOPER: Hey, Candy, I know David Gergen also has a question for you.

CROWLEY: Yes, no question.

GERGEN: Yes, David Gergen.

CROWLEY: Hey, David.

GERGEN: Hi, there.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Actually, I'm sorry. David, I'm sorry, I'm just told we got our first poll results so let's quickly go to that one and we'll come back to Candy -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Anderson, we have the first results in from our scientific poll. This is a scientific poll of registered voters who watched tonight's debate.

Here are the results. Forty-six percent say President Obama won the debate, 39 percent say Governor Romney won the debate. Seventy- three percent say President Obama did better than expected, 10 percent say he did worse, 16 percent thought President Obama did the same as they had expected.

As for Governor Romney, 37 percent of the debate watchers say he did better than expected, 28 percent say he did worse, 33 percent say Governor Romney did about the same as they had expected.

We have more results, more answers to other questions. And by the way, the sample debate watchers in this CNN poll were 33 percent Democrat, 33 percent Republican. That indicates that the sample of debate watchers is about eight points more Republican than the average of CNN polls taken in 2012 of all Americans, so the respondents were more Republican than the -- than the general public would suggest that this poll shows it was basically a draw as far as -- as far as those who actually watched the debate were concerned.

Slight edge, though, 46 percent for President Obama, 39 percent for Governor Romney.

Anderson, some numbers to digest.

COOPER: Yes, let's digest that a little bit. Just on first blush, what do you guys think about it?

KING: Governor Romney won by a bigger margin in our poll after the first debate. But it's a -- it's a win for the president. I think he's -- you know, it's under 50 percent. But there's no question, there's no question there are people watching the debate. Scored on points for the president than I believe the natural connection with that is that, again, this is largely the numbers are moving largely because of the intensity of the bases. The president will get a boost from this.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And more Republicans were watching this debate than Democrats. I think the big question we're all going to have coming out of this evening is, was this win for the president, if it's a win, as our -- as our poll shows? Is it enough to change the momentum of the race? And we don't really know the answer to that.

COOPER: When will we know that? Days from now with more polls?

(CROSSTALK)

GERGEN: Yes, in the polls. In the polls.

BORGER: We'll look at the battleground. We'll look at the battleground states.

GERGEN: You know, I -- look, I think that the -- I think what we can safely say tonight is that the president did well enough to blunt Romney's momentum. And that was very important to him in a state like Ohio. We talked to an elite people out there in Ohio. The president went into this tonight with a lead in Ohio, which is a critical state, and if he can blunt a momentum, that puts him in a better position to win.

I think it's going to be a horse race down to the end nationally. But that's an important advance for the president.

(CROSSTALK)

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: I'm not sure --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I'm --

CASTELLANOS: I'm not sure that that's entirely what we saw. There's a difference between the president igniting his base and maybe picking up a little bit of momentum there and blunting Romney's tonight. Romney -- you know, something fundamentally changed in the first debate. And that was Mitt Romney was an acceptable Republican, he wasn't this scary guy Obama has been painting.

That all of a sudden there is an alternative to Barack Obama. That alternative obtains tonight. That Mitt Romney is still out there. He was not damaged. I'm not sure he was slowed down at all. That doesn't mean Barack Obama I think scored a point.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Van, quickly, and then we got to go.

VAN JONES, FORMER OBAMA SPECIAL ADVISOR: Well, but I think with women, look at social media, that binder full of women. A hundred thousand people now on Facebook saying that was a bad thing. He said that single moms are responsible for the gun violence. I think he hurt himself with single women and that's important. I think he did stop the momentum for women.

COOPER: All right. We -- we're going to have more with our panel. We'll hear more from our group of undecided voters. What they thought were the best and the worst moments, plus more results from our scientific poll of debate watchers. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: The commitments I've made, I've kept, and those that I haven't been able to keep, it's not for lack of trying, and we're going to get it done in a second term. But you should pay attention to this campaign because Governor Romney has made some commitments as well, and I suspect he'll keep those, too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's go to Columbus, Ohio, that's the capital of a key battleground state. Erin Burnett is standing by. She watched this debate with a focus group of undecided voters.

Erin Burnett, give us a little flavor of what they thought?

ERIN BURNETT, ANCHOR, ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT: I have to say, Wolf, I love watching the focus groups. Everyone -- you're all so intense. Everyone said they've never watched a debate the way you do when you actually have to score every single moment.

You just heard the flash poll results, everyone. And our focus group had a similar response. A victory for Obama over Romney. Although a little bit interesting here, Wolf. Fourteen of our 35 focus group members said the president won. Six said Mitt Romney won, but 15 of them said that neither one of them won. They said it was a draw. So that is a pretty interesting thing.

And in terms of some of the ratings overall, a thrust for the president, his likability, some of those ratings improved post debate from pre-debate here among our focus group members. And a lot of people just like the flash poll did think the president did better than they thought he would. More so than they thought Mitt Romney did better.

Bottom line, though, Wolf, when it comes to votes, how many votes did each of the men pick up tonight if this group of undecided voters had to vote, Obama picked up seven votes and Romney picked up five votes.

So that's the bottom line. But in terms of a better vision for the country, I want to make sure I get this in here, 18 people here ended thinking Mitt Romney, 17 Barack Obama.

So, Jenny, let me ask you, who did you think won this debate tonight?

JENNY, UNDECIDED VOTER: I think it was close, but I think I would have to give a slight edge to Obama.

BURNETT: And why was that?

JENNY: I -- there were two times I thought that he was -- he stayed very on point, talked about precisely what he had accomplished in his first term, whereas former Governor Romney was a little bit more general, kept referring back of course to Massachusetts. And then -- well, there were just different things but I thought Obama was a little bit more precise and -- on his previously record.

BURNETT: On how he answered things.

JENNY: Yes.

BURNETT: And let me go over here to Andy, because you had also kind of a feeling about what you got out of this debate. A little bit of frustration.

ANDY, UNDECIDED VOTER: Yes, it's good debate. A good exchange. I thought both candidates fought real hard. But it seemed like every question eventually kind of evolves back into their four or five go-to points that we've heard the entire campaign, and then it kind of deteriorates into I'm going to tell you what the guy said or what he's not going to do or how he's going to hurt you, rather than how I'm going to help you.

BURNETT: Yes, and you know what, Wolf, I want to just emphasize that. That was something our focus group, and maybe you all here in Ohio are just so scarred from all the ads that you have to see.

(LAUGHTER)

And the negativity. But they didn't like the negativity. You start off saying, this is what I'm going to do, the scores were higher, and then when they said, but this is what the other guy did wrong, automatically a real plunge on the ratings here. So we'll have more in terms of the highs and lows soon, Anderson. Back to you. COOPER: Erin, thanks.

It is interesting, John, and people always say they don't like the negativity, but negative ads work.

KING: Yes, people complain the whole campaign, I hate the negative ads, I hate the negative ads, I hate the negative ads, and you ask them as they leave the polling place, why did you vote for X, and they repeat Y's negative ads or X's negative ads back and forth. That's just the way the process works.

If you -- but if you live -- I've been traveling the last few weeks a lot, if you live in one of these eight or nine states, I mean, most of the country is watching, they say, what are they talking about? I'm not getting this campaign. Because it's only really playing out on eight or nine states, and it is crazy.

I'm going to walk over because we're going to see both campaigns tonight said they did what they needed to do. The poll relatively close. The president wins in our poll, but not by the big margin Governor Romney who scored as the winner in the first debate. So they say they won, the question is, and then you guys can talk about this, we will see what they really think in the next few days. By the time they debate next Monday night, that's the last debate, they will have the polls, they will have the polls in the states of what people think.

We know coming into this debate, after the first debate, Governor Romney picked up in Nevada, Colorado, in Iowa, in Ohio, where Erin was with that focus group, in both Virginia and North Carolina, and in Florida. This is very important momentum for Governor Romney because those are all states that President Obama won four years ago, but they're all states George W. Bush carried not only in 2004, he carried all but Iowa in 2000.

So the Romney campaign believes these are states that have Republican DNA in recent presidential elections that are not big Democratic years like 2008. So they think their improved standing heading into these critical last 20 days is huge. And they don't think, in talking to Romney people after the debate tonight, that even if you score this one for the president, anything significant change.

So here's the question. Here's the question. Watch in these states, watch in these states in the next few weeks. Obviously the candidates are going to contest all of them for now, but very soon, the gold states are our toss-up states. Very soon, we'll see, is Michigan really in play, is Pennsylvania in play, or are we going to fight it out in these nine states? And as we fight it out in these nine states, watch things like this. And this will change even before the debate next Monday.

If you take this down, here we go here, we bring this up. Here's one of the things we want to see. TV ad counts. Right? Let's see this right now. This is what the campaign is doing. This looks confusing. Right? But let's just use -- let's just go here. This is the state of Ohio. It gets very confusing, excuse me for switching sides. See all these (INAUDIBLE)? If it's the big, dark blue, that's the Obama campaign. It's the lighter blue, that a pro-Obama super PAC.

Dark red is Romney. Pink is that. Look at this. Republican PAC spending in Ohio. Romney campaign spending in Ohio, Democratic PAC spending in Ohio. Obama campaign has been spending very heavily, more heavily than anyone else in Ohio. Trying to protect that lead.

So, Anderson, we should watch how this plays out. They now have to make with 20 days left the critical resource decisions. Where does -- TV money go? Where does the president go? Where does Governor Romney go? Where does the vice president and Paul Ryan go?

They will see this. They're doing their own focus groups tonight. And we'll see the polls over the next few days. By the time we're here again next Monday night for the last debate, something in this map will change.

COOPER: Yes. I need a drink, and I don't even drink.

(LAUGHTER)

Tom Foreman is standing by with another reality check on one of the big topics of the debate. Immigration. New numbers in our post debate poll. They just came in. We'll have that in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: The greatest failure we've had with regards to gun violence in some respects is what is known as "Fast and Furious," which was a program under this administration and how it worked exactly, I think we don't know precisely, but where thousands of automatic and AK-47 type weapons were given to people that ultimately gave them to drug lords. They used those weapons against their own citizens and killed Americans with them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: We have more results coming in from our poll of registered voter who watched tonight's presidential debate. They say President Obama won the debate. And here's a closer look at their views.

We asked, who did the debate make you more likely to vote for? Look at the results. Twenty-five percent said President Obama, 25 percent said Governor Romney, 48 percent said neither.

We also asked, who's seen to be a stronger leader? Forty-nine percent said Governor Romney compared to 46 percent for President Obama.

We asked, who was more likeable? Forty-seven percent said President Obama, 41 percent said Mitt Romney. And we also asked, who spent more time attacking his opponent? Forty-nine percent said President Obama, 35 percent said Governor Romney. Forty-four percent of debate watchers, by the way, said President Obama seemed to care more about the audience members, compared to 40 percent for Mitt Romney. Forty-five percent say Romney answered the questions more directly compared to 43 percent for President Obama.

Remember, this is a scientific poll that reflects the views of people who actually watched the debate. Our sample indicates that 33 percent of those who tuned in tonight were Democratic, 33 percent were Republican. That sample is about eight points more Republican than an average of CNN polls taken in 2012 of all Americans so the respondents in this poll were more Republican than the general public.

The numbers are coming in. Pretty much, if you take a look overall, Anderson, of all these numbers, pretty much a slight, slight edge to the president. But I'd say that the poll shows pretty much of a draw.

COOPER: Also interesting to see when you look at, will it actually change your vote? Who makes you more likely to vote for? Twenty-five percent, 25 percent.

I guess the other -- the next question we have to figure out is, on the economy, which is the number one issue, did one candidate come out ahead?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Anderson, you know, in the 2004 campaign when George Bush beat John Kerry, I think it's fair to say, John Kerry beat George Bush in each of the three debates, as the public said. But it didn't change their voting behavior. So what you have to ask after this debate, is given the first debate -- we'll use a baseball analogy. Mitt Romney scored five runs in the first three innings. In this one, let's call it, no runs for the president or give him one run. He scored one run more than Romney. Mitt Romney is probably still winning among the electorate.

I think what happened here is it didn't stop the Obama slide. He's sliding maybe, maybe a little bit slower, or maybe not at all yet, if it's really a draw the way the voters seemed to think it was a draw.

(CROSSTALK)

DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We had one poll tonight and it's a scientific poll but it does oversample for Republicans, and there are numerous other polls floating around out there. And all of them --

(CROSSTALK)

CASTELLANOS: It's because they're growing, they're growing.

MYERS: Yes, you're growing. All of them show that voters thought President Obama won tonight. And I think that what you're going to see is the Democratic base shoring up, the Democratic leaning independents going home and you're going to see Obama start to move the other direction, his numbers are going to start to go up.

KING: I'm not sure about that. Forgive me. I'm a Red Sox fan, my team wasn't even in play.

(LAUGHTER)

But the Yankees fans know the Tigers won tonight.

MYERS: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: But they're not going to vote for the Tigers, they're still going to root for the Yankees. So if the people are scoring the debate who won the debate, that's fine. Who you're going to vote for is a different question.

I do think there are fundamental -- that Alex is right that the president had the baton in this race, and in the first debate, he allowed Mitt Romney to be his equal, to be an incredible candidate for president. What the Romney campaign is most happy with tonight is I think he made a very successful case against his first-term record. And I don't think the president was able to make the extreme label.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Actually we have -- we have some more polling now. Let's just go to that and then we can talk about it with Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, a little bit more to dissect, including issue number one, the economy. Our poll of registered voters once again people who actually watched tonight's debate say President Obama won, but when we dig deeper into the numbers, we're seeing Romney did score points with viewers tonight.

Look at this. Fifty-eight percent, 58 percent of debate watchers say Romney would better handle the economy, 48 percent say President Obama would. That's issue number one. Forty-nine percent say Romney would better handle health care, compared to 46 percent for President Obama, 49-46.

We also asked who would better handle the issue of taxes. Fifty- one percent say Romney, 44 percent say President Obama. Fifty-nine percent say Romney would do a better job on the deficit, 36 percent say President Obama would do a better job on the deficit.

Remember, this is a scientific poll, once again, I want to repeat it, reflects the views only of people who watched, actually watched this debate, our sample indicates that 33 percent of those who tuned in tonight were Democrat -- Democratic, 33 percent were Republican. That sample is about eight points more Republican than an average of CNN polls taken in 2012 from all Americans, so once again, the respondents in this poll were more Republican than the general public -- Anderson. COOPER: We're bringing Candy Crowley in just a moment.

John King, you were just talking about these numbers.

KING: If American voters out there, not just those who watched the debate, have participated in our poll, if other Americans think that Governor Romney won on the question of who would best handle the economy, who would best handle health care, and who would best handle taxes, then governor -- if they don't change their mind between now and election day, Governor Romney will win the election.

COOPER: Candy Crowley -- Candy Crowley, when you look at those issues, I mean, taxes, economy, the deficit, Mitt Romney clearly out in front from debate watchers tonight.

CROWLEY: As far as the economy is concerned, it's almost as though Mitt Romney has gotten back that edge. Remember the early polling, people always thought that Mitt Romney would be better able to handle the economy. And he is very good when he sits there, going, wait a minute, here is what's happening to the poverty rate. He is what's happened here. He's very precise, he really -- that's when, you know, these point charts are really good. Because he has a mind for -- and I think it shows. He has a mind for the economy.

I just want to throw one thing out on the table there. You know how we all talked about how this was going to be -- they were going to be nice to each other because all those people were sitting there. Here's my theory on that. They both know this is a base election. Tonight it really wasn't the undecideds they were talking to, they were talking to their bases who want to see each of them stand up to the other.

COOPER: We got to take a quick break. We're going to have more with our panelists here. And Tom Foreman also has another reality check on the candidates' positions on illegal immigration.

You can see the debate again in its entirety in a little bit. We're going to take a short break. Our coverage continues.