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But Mr. Romney was absolutely on fire Wednesday night. He had command of countless specifics from voters and business owners from all across country.

He explained complex issues clearly, concisely and with good humor. He was not angry. But he was direct and pointed.

“I’ve been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Mr. Romney said in the most devastating understatement of the night. “I maybe need to get a new accountant.”

Like a prosecutor in court, Mr. Romney went after Mr. Obama’s record and eviscerated him about the terrible economy and Mr. Obama’s belief in “trickle-down government.”

Mr. Romney also came off as genuine by looking Mr. Obama in the eye with every criticism. He also looked moderator Jim Lehrer in the eye when he told him that if he became president he would cut funding to public broadcasting, possibly eliminating his job.

Mr. Obama weakly offered Mr. Lehrer: “You’ve done a great job.”

OK, that’s one vote for Mr. Obama in the sympathy strategy. Just 55 million votes to go.

Charles Hurt can be reached at