Tense exchanges dominate Obama and Romney's rematch debate
Published Tuesday, October 16, 2012 8:22AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, October 16, 2012 11:37PM EDT
U.S. President Barack Obama and his challenger, Republican Mitt Romney, sparred over jobs, energy policies, women’s issues and the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya in a feisty debate Tuesday night.
The second presidential debate at Long Island, New York's Hofstra University assumed a combative tone from the start, as the candidates attacked the effectiveness of each other’s plans to create jobs and revive the battered U.S. economy.
In the town hall-style debate, a group of undecided voters, chosen by the Gallup polling group, took turns asking the candidates questions.
Romney and Obama were able to freely move around an open stage this time around, which often placed them directly in each other’s faces during some tense exchanges.
One of those clashes happened during a discussion of the recent attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, in which Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others were killed.
As Romney hammered away at what he said were conflicting assessments from the Obama administration on the nature of the attack, Obama responded by saying that he had called it an “act of terror” the very next day.
Romney disputed that, but moderator Candy Crowley, CNN’s political correspondent, interrupted to say that Obama did, indeed, use those words in a speech. The audience applauded, although they had been warned against any “outburst” during the debate.
Obama also angrily reacted to Romney’s assertion that Democrats politicized the Libya attack, calling the notion “offensive.”
The rivals often interrupted one another and talked over Crowley as she attempted to move on to the next question from the audience.
The first question of the evening came from a first-time voter, a 20-year-old college student who wanted to know what his job prospects will be like after graduation.
Romney assured him that, if he wins the election, millions of new jobs will be created. He touted his five-point job creation plan, which he said includes tax breaks for the middle class and investments in key industries.
Romney continued to hammer away at the unemployment rate during Obama’s first term and what he called wasteful spending by the current administration.
Obama retorted by saying that Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan, but a “one-point plan.”
“And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules,” he said.
Obama said his administration has been serious about reducing the U.S. deficit, which means imposing tax increases on the wealthiest Americans.
He also said he wants to build on the 5 million private sector jobs created in his first term by pushing for more manufacturing jobs.
Meanwhile, Romney reiterated his campaign promise to clear the path for small business to thrive in America.
On the question of high gas prices, Obama touted renewable energy sources, including wind and solar, while Romney attacked the president for limiting oil drilling on federal land and shutting down coal plants.
Romney said he would support North America-wide energy initiatives, including projects involving Canada.
Obama said he is also “all for (oil) pipelines,” but the U.S. cannot ignore “the other side of the equation” – renewable energy.
The two men also discussed women’s issues, including equity in the workplace and access to contraception.
In response to Obama’s criticism of his stance on women’s health and reproductive issues, Romney said the president was off-base and that he believes that every woman in America should have access to contraception.
Contraception and abortion have been hot-button issues in this presidential election campaign, with Obama asserting himself as the “pro-women” candidate in contrast to Romney’s belief that abortion is justified only in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is in danger.
With just three weeks until election day, Obama was under pressure to deliver a strong performance in the second round.
Even Democrats have acknowledged that Obama was beaten in the first debate two weeks ago, appearing distracted while Romney was sharp and aggressive.
But both professional pundits and armchair political observers gave Obama much higher marks Tuesday night.
With polls showing a tight race for the White House, swaying the undecided voter is seen as key to winning the Nov. 6 election.
After Tuesday night's town hall-style debate, the presidential candidates will have one more chance to square off on Oct. 22, at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.