The Key Debate Question

Well into Tuesday night's town hall debate, after exchanges on tax plans, gas prices, unemployment and more, the key question of campaign 2012 got asked and answered.

It came about an hour in. It was simple and straighforward. One of the "undecided" voters selected by Gallup, an African-American man, stood and asked this:

"Mr. President, I voted for you in 2008. What have you done or accomplished to earn my vote in 2012? I’m not that optimistic as I was...most things I need for everyday living are very expensive."

The president ticked off a litany. He cut taxes for the middle class and small businesses. He killed bin Laden. He got health-care reform. He reined in Wall Street. He saved the auto industry and created jobs in an enherited economy that was losing 800,000 jobs a-month.

It was a good answer. It included his contention that "the commitments I've made, I've kept."

But it set up Romney for his best moment of the night and maybe the campaign.

"I think you know better," Mitt said, and he launched into a recitation of Obama `08 promises.

"He said that by now we'd have unemployment at 5.4%. The difference between where it is and 5.4% is 9 million Americans without work. I wasn't the one that said 5.4%. This was the President's plan -- didn't get there.

"He said he would have by now put forward a plan to reform Medicare and Social Security, because he pointed out they're on the road to bankruptcy. He would reform them. He'd get that done. He hasn't even made a proposal on either one. He said in his first year he’d put out an immigration plan that would deal with our immigration challenges -- didn't even file it."

Then Mitt talked about health insurance premiums going up for middle-class families, median income going down, 23 million unemployed or under-employed and 15 million more Americans on food stamps.

"The President has tried, but his policies haven’t worked," Romney said.

The format allowed no comeback. The debate moved on to another topic.

But -- since no one seems willing to acknowledge that with a divided, do-nothing Congress that's expcted to remain divided the prospect of either of these candidates getting major policy changes into law remains as dismal as today -- the "what have you done" question becomes key.

And the way it's handled by both sides between now and Nov. 6 will determine who's president for the next four years.