THE FIRST QUESTION was about the needs of the homebound elderly. The candidates talked about crime.
The second question was about youth services. The candidates talked about crime.
The third question was about ways to get welfare recipients into the work force. The candidates talked about crime.
Not that anybody was counting, but the candidates also talked about crime when they answered the fifth question. And the eleventh. And the twelfth.
In "Groundhog Day," Bill Murray kept re-living the same day, over and over and over. In "Debate Day 2," Bill Weld and Mark Roosevelt kept re-delivering the same crime answer, over and over and over. Murray, at least, wound up getting the girl. All Weld and Roosevelt wound up getting was a split decision.
But -- as Roosevelt said when asked why he had voted to impose a sales tax on services in 1987 and 1991 -- "let's just talk about something else."
Last night's debate was first-rate. What a difference it makes when both candidates take part. Weld may have phoned in his performance a week ago, but yesterday he was alert, prepared, aggressive . . . and gubernatorial. He never quite managed to fluster his opponent, but there were moments when it was obvious that Roosevelt -- usually so deft and quick on his feet -- suddenly found himself naked.
"Rep. Roosevelt," asked Weld as the debate entered its second half, "in 1992, you had the second-worst attendance record of any member of the House of Representatives. . . . In 1990, you had the sixth-worst attendance record. . . . 1993: You had the eighth-worst attendance record. . . . 1991: You had the fifth-worst attendance record. . . ."
What was Roosevelt to do? He ticked off his legislative accomplishments and then changed the subject, but the damage was done. Roosevelt thought he'd driven a stake through that attendance-record business at last week's debate, and here Weld was not only reviving it, but multiplying it. That smarted.
On Oct. 18, Roosevelt debated a Raggedy Andy doll. Last night, he debated a skilled prosecutor. The difference was unmistakable. And alas for Roosevelt, they won't be debating anymore.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)