The attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya that led to the death of four Americans became the flashpoint in Tuesday night's second presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney: that's the major finding of the Red and Blue Commonwealth flash polls sent out to local politicos immediately after the debate ended on Thursday night.
Obama and Romney faced off on Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York in a town hall format, with CNN's Candy Crowley moderating a debate that covered both domestic and foreign policy.
Of the 17 local influential Democrats who took the poll after the debate ended, 13 of them (76.5 percent) voted that Obama won by a large margin and four (23.5 percent) voted that the president won by a slim margin.
Local influential Republicans were more varied in their assessment of Romney's performance. Of 25 who took the poll, eight (32 percent) voted that Romney won by a wide margin, 12 (48 percent) voted Romney won by a slim margin; three (12 percent) voted neutral and two (8 percent) voted Obama won by a slim margin.
The two sides agreed on one thing: Most of the Republicans voted that Obama would be declared the consensus "winner" by the national media, as did most of the Democrats who took the poll.
Of the Republicans, 15 voted Obama would be declared the winner by a slim margin and 1 voted by a wide margin. Five voted neutral and four voted Romney would be declared the winner by a slim margin.
Nine Democrats voted Obama would be declared the winner by a wide margin, seven voted by a slim margin and one voted neutral.
Libya Attack Characterization Polarizes Republicans, Democrats
Where the two sides disagreed was their assessment of an exchange between Obama, Romney and Crowley regarding the president's response to the attack in Libya on U.S. embassy employees, which left four Americans dead, including Ambassador Chris Stevens and Winchester native Glen Doherty.
During the debate, after Obama said that the day after the attack he had called it an act of terror during his remarks in the White House Rose Garden, Romney asked him to reiterate that statement.
"It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you're saying?" Romney said. "I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror."
Obama replied, "Get the transcript," and Crowley said to Romney, "He did in fact, sir."
The passage in question from Obama's remarks on Sept. 12:
Of course, yesterday was already a painful day for our nation as we marked the solemn memory of the 9/11 attacks. We mourned with the families who were lost on that day. I visited the graves of troops who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hallowed grounds of Arlington Cemetery, and had the opportunity to say thank you and visit some of our wounded warriors at Walter Reed. And then last night, we learned the news of this attack in Benghazi.
As Americans, let us never, ever forget that our freedom is only sustained because there are people who are willing to fight for it, to stand up for it, and in some cases, lay down their lives for it. Our country is only as strong as the character of our people and the service of those both civilian and military who represent us around the globe.
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 waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done.
The following Sunday, Sept. 16, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice went on Sunday morning talk shows and characterized the attack as a "spontaneous reaction," a remark weeks later disowned by the State Department.
A number of local Republicans pointed to the exchange as a moment that would stand out in the minds of conservatives in Massachusetts, which one Republican called "Obama lying on Libya." Others cited Crowley's statement "He did in fact, sir," with one Republican writing, "The moderator incorrectly citing the Rose Garden transcript to squelch Romney's Libya argument" and another writing "when Candy Crowley lied and said Obama called Benghazi an act of terror."
Conversely, Democrats also pointed to the exchange as a moment that would stand out in the minds of liberals and progressives in Massachusetts, with one Democrat writing "Obama offended by Romney's talk about Libya" and another writing "the president humbling Romney on Libya."
Obama's Record vs. Romney's Record
As for other moments that stood out, the answers ran the gamut for both Democrats and Republicans, but several focused on each candidate's record.
Democrats pointed to Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts, with one writing that Romney was "taking false credit for education success" in Massachusetts and another highlighting Obama saying that Romney stood in front of the coal-burning Salem Harbor Power Station and saying that the plant kills people.
Other Democrats wrote about Romney's rheotric on the campaign trail and during the debate, with one writing that the governor was "backtracking his tax plan" and another pointed to Obama bringing up Romney's comments about the "47 percent."
Republicans pointed to Obama's record, from the Keystone Pipeline project to the deficit and unemployment. One Republican wrote that "facts are facts when it comes to 23 million unemployed, doubling of gas prices, deficits of $16 trillion, incomes dropped," while another pointed to Romney saying that Obama promised to cut the deficit in half and "he did nothing and it increased two-fold."
Other Republicans wrote that Romney "hammering home all of Obama's failtures" put the president on the defensive.
"President Obama can not defend his record so attacks and lies without compunction, when challenged he becomes angry and attacks Governor Romney," one Republican wrote.
Both Republicans and Democrats were fairly confident that their candidate's debate performance would increase the number of votes he gets in Massachusetts.
Five Republicans voted they strongly agreed Romney's performance would increase his Bay State vote total, 11 somewhat agreed, five were neutral, three somewhat disagree and one strongly disagreed.
Eight Democrats voted they strongly agreed Obama's performance would increase his Massachusetts vote total, eight somewhat agreed and one was neutral.
And at least one poll taker, a Democrat, was left wanting more from both Obama and Romney.
"I would like to see candidates answer the questions that are asked," they wrote.
Who do you think won the debate? Tell us in the comments below.
Red and Blue Commonwealth Surveys
Our surveys are not a scientific, random sample of any larger population, but rather an effort to listen to a group of influential local Republican activists, party leaders, candidates and elected officials in Massachusetts. All of these individuals have agreed to participate in Massachusetts' Patch's surveys, although not all responded to this story's questions.
Patch will be conducting Red Commonwealth and Blue Commonwealth surveys throughout the 2012 election season in hopes of determining the true sentiment of conservatives and liberals on the ground in Massachusetts. If you are an activist, party leader or elected official and would like to take part in periodic surveys that last just a few minutes, please contact Associate Regional Editor Daniel DeMaina at email@example.com.