WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney faced off Tuesday in the second of three nationally televised debates. This forum contained far more confrontation than the first, with the candidates occasionally lapsing into arguments.
With his poll numbers fading after a listless performance in the first debate, President Obama was far more energetic and aggressive in the second debate.
He and Governor Romney tangled in a town hall-style forum at Hofstra University, near New York City, where the two candidates fielded questions from an audience of undecided voters.
On several occasions they began to argue, as in this exchange on energy policy.
Obama: “There were a whole bunch of oil companies...”
Romney: “No, I had a, I had a question, and the question was, how much did you cut them by?”
Obama: “You want me to answer the question? I am happy to answer the question.”
Romney: “All right. And it is?”
Obama: “Here is what happened....”
One audience question concerned the September attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed the ambassador and three other Americans.
The president took ultimate responsibility for the security lapses that allowed the attack to happen, but he also criticized Romney for his response to the incident.
“While we were still dealing with our diplomats being threatened, Governor Romney put out a press release, trying to make political points. And, that is not how a commander-in-chief operates. You do not turn national security into a political issue," he said.
Governor Romney said the administration's failures in Benghazi were symbolic of an overall failed Middle East policy. And, he said it was Obama who played politics in the aftermath of the attack.
“The president, the day after that happened, flies to Las Vegas for a political fundraiser, and the next day to Colorado for another political event. I think these actions taken by a president and leader have symbolic significance," he said.
On the economy, the president defended his record on the economy and promised to continue working to speed the recovery.
“We have created five million jobs, gone from 800,000 jobs a month being lost, and we are making progress. We saved an auto industry that was on the brink of collapse," he said.
Governor Romney said Obama's economic record has been poor and would not improve in a second term.
“I think you know better. I think you know that these last four years have not been so good, as the president just described, and that you do not feel like you are confident that the next four years are going to be much better either. I can tell you that if you elect President Obama, you know what you are going to get. You are going to get a repeat of the last four years," he said.
Romney said the president was not doing enough to confront China on allegations of cheating on trade issues. He said he would label China a currency manipulator from his first day in office. The president defended his record on China, saying he has won numerous cases against Beijing at the World Trade Organization.
The two candidates also squared off on immigration, women's issues, gun control and education.
Several polls taken in the moments after the debate gave the president a slight advantage.
A wide majority of Americans believed Romney won the first debate, on October Third, and the Republican challenger has been gaining in public opinion polls since then. Most recent polls show the two candidates almost even.
Both candidates will campaign in swing states Wednesday. Romney goes to Virginia and the president will visit Iowa and Ohio.
Obama and Governor Romney will meet in one final debate, on foreign policy issues, next Monday in Florida.