• With: Dan Henninger, Mary Kissel, James Freeman, Kim Strassel, Bret Stephens, Art Laffer

    This is a rush transcript from "Journal Editorial Report," October 20, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

    PAUL GIGOT, FOX HOST: This week on the "Journal Editorial Report," two debates down, one to go. Where the presidential race stands after Tuesday's town hall faceoff, and a look ahead to Monday night's final showdown on foreign policy.

    Plus, the president's plans. He's been mum about his second-term agenda. But we've got some ideas about what to expect.

    All that, and the green energy fiasco. Another administration favorite follows Solyndra into bankruptcy and takes millions in taxpayer money with it.

    Welcome to the "Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.

    The presidential candidates met for their second debate this week with a more spirited President Obama trading jabs with Republican rival, Mitt Romney, on everything from immigration to taxes. National polls show the race still very much a toss-up, and swing state surveys continue to tighten. Both candidates are campaign hard in those key states as they hone their message for the campaigns' closing weeks.

    Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor, Dan Henninger; editorial board member, Mary Kissel; assistant editorial page editor, James Freeman; and Washington columnist, Kim Strassel.

    So, Kim, I talked to a lot of Democrats this week who were elated by the president's performance. They say the king is back. He's really rocking now.


    Momentum -- the big mo's with him. What do you think about that? Are they right?

    KIM STRASSEL, WASHINGTON COLUMNIST: Well, I mean, the president certainly made his base thrilled with his performance at the debate. That was one of the things he needed to do. Look, there's too many questions coming at the president's campaign. He needed to settle and calm those fears. Yes, he succeeded at.

    What he did not arguably do at the debate is, in any way, stem the damage that Mitt Romney inflicted in the first debate, which was to expose that he's not really running publicly with a second-term agenda. And that's what Independents and a lot of undecided voters are looking at that. In that, he sounded like someone who was stumbling. He just didn't have a plan, and that was a problem.

    GIGOT: Let's roll and add that the -- Obama campaign is rolling out this week following the debate, which they think is a big plus for them. Let's see.



    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In what new ways do you intend to rectify the inequalities in the workplace, specifically regarding females making only 72 percent of what their female counterparts earn?


    MITT ROMNEY, R - PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I had the chance to pull together a cabinet and all the applicants seem to be men. I said, well, gosh, can't we find some women that are also qualified? They brought us whole binders full of women.


    GIGOT: So "binders full of women" being the vital -- web viral line of the week. It's clearly a strategy, on Obama's part, aimed at turning out women voters, which they're concerned about where Romney is making inroads.

    What do you think of that strategy?

    MARY KISSEL, EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBER: Well, Romney's making inroads because he's talking to women like they have a brain.


    He's talking to them from the neck, up.


    Women are just as likely as men to be pro-life. I think the Romney campaign can counter an ad like that by talking about some of the real reasons that women have pay disparities. There are things that could be changed about the tax code. There are things that could be changed about our labor laws. But I think it shows just how desperate the Obama campaign has become if they're seizing something as benign as the phrase "binders of women."

    GIGOT: But, Kim, really, the women's vote is crucial for Obama. I mean, they are stressing this. Every Democrat I talk to says this may be where the election -- what it depends on.

    STRASSEL: Look, they've got a couple of core subgroups, the Hispanic community, minors, in particularly women and the youth vote. They are going to be -- whether or not Barack Obama wins will be, in part, by hue huge a margin, if he has one at all, that he wins women over Mitt Romney. This is why they're so concerned. It's why they're running this ad. Because what really happened after the first debate in Denver is that Mitt Romney calmed a lot of fears that women had about him and he started to narrow the gap, to the point where, in some polls, he's actually polling evenly with the president among women. That's why they're pursuing this so aggressively.

    GIGOT: OK. Dan, I'm going -- go ahead. You want to give some analysis on this subject?

    DAN HENNINGER, COLUMNIST & DEPUTY EDITOR: Well, not so much the women. But the one questioner in that debate about whom they will not be running an ad, was the black fellow, who stood up and simply asked the president about what he's doing for every-day lives.

    GIGOT: We've got an ad that plays off of that answer.

    HENNINGER: All right.

    GIGOT: Let's look at it. This is a Romney ad.


    ROMNEY: His policies haven't worked. Median income's down $4300 a family, and 23 million Americans out of work. He said that he'd cut in half the deficit. He just hasn't been able to put in place reforms for Medicare and Social Security to preserve them. That's what this election is about. It's about who can get the middle class in this country a bright and prosperous future and assure our kids the kind of hope and optimism they deserve.


    GIGOT: This is the big mega theme that Romney is developing, basically say -- it's focused on the economy. It's nationally based, not regionally based. I thought that was his most effective answer in that debate.

    HENNINGER: Oh, I did, too. And I think it is the mega issue. I think that fellow put his finger right on it. How can we relate my economic life, my daily life, to what's going on in the larger economy? And President Obama virtually had nothing to say to him. By the time he was done, he was talking about ending the war in Iraq and killing bin Laden.