US voters gathered at a local restaurant in the battleground state of Virginia to hear what the candidates had to say during the second presidential debate on Tuesday.
Many came away believing President Barack Obama had given a much better performance than he did in the first debate. "I think that it was a much more even fight, which I think will work in the president's favour," said Wendy Lue. But Maria Stavrou's assessment was that Obama's performance hadn't improved. "I still think that he's not doing as well in the debates as he should be for a president," she said.
The second debate of 2012 proved a feisty affair, with Obama challenging republican rival Mitt Romney. "They've been working on the spin machine and they have been working on their campaigns slogans and a lot of 'gotcha' sort of statements and here it seems like they were being a little bit more, I guess we'd call it, vicious ," explained Dan Barrett. Mike Lewan said he thought most Americans had already made up their minds who they will vote for in the November election. "I think if you're truly undecided and you are watching this debate, you would be more likely to vote for President Obama than Governor Romney," he went on to say.
The pair disagreed on issues like taxation, the bailout of the auto industry , measures to reduce the deficit, energy, pay equity for women and health care, as well as foreign policy. The town-hall style debate lasted ninety minutes.
An aggressive President Barack Obama accused challenger Mitt Romney of favouring a "one-point plan" to help the rich and leveling offensive criticism about the recent deadly terrorist attack in Libya Tuesday night in a debate crackling with energy and emotion just three weeks before the election.
Romney pushed back hard, saying the middle class "has been crushed over the last four years" and that 23 million Americans are still struggling to find work. Both men pledged a better economic future to a young man who asked the first question, a member of a pre-selected audience of 82 uncommitted voters.
The president was feistier from the outset than he had been in their initial encounter two weeks ago, when he turned in a listless performance that sent shudders through his supporters and helped fuel a rise by Romney in opinion polls nationally and in some battleground states.
The open-stage format left the two men free to stroll freely across a red- carpeted stage, and they did. Their clashes crackled with energy and tension, and the crowd watched raptly as the two sparred while struggling to appear calm and affable before a national television audience.
Under the format agreed to in advance, members of an audience of 82 uncommitted voters posed questions to the president and his challenger. Nearly all of them concerned domestic policy until one raised the subject of the recent death of the US Ambassador to Libya in a terrorist attack at an American post in Benghazi. Romney said it took Obama a long time to admit the episode had been a terrorist attack, but Obama said he had said so the day after in an appearance in the rose garden outside the White House. Moderator Candy Crowley of CNN confirmed the president had in fact done so. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has taken responsibility for the death of the ambassador, Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, but Obama said bluntly, "I'm the president, and I'm always responsible."
Romney said it was "troubling" that Obama continued with a campaign event in Las Vegas on the day after the attack in Libya, an event the Republican said had "symbolic significance and perhaps even material significance." Obama seemed to bristle. He said it was offensive for anyone to allege that he or anyone in his administration had used the incident for political purposes. "That's not what I do." According to the transcript, Obama said on September 12, "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for."
Both men had rehearsed extensively for the encounter, a turnabout for Obama. Asked Tuesday night by one member of the audience how he would differ from former President George W. Bush, the last Republican to hold the office, Romney said, "We are different people and these are different times." He said he would attempt to balance the budget, something Bush was unsuccessful in doing, get tougher on China and work more aggressively to expand trade.
The final question of the night allowed both candidates to explain how they had been misrepresented or misunderstood during the campaign. Romney took the opportunity to tell the audience that he had been characterized as someone, "who is very different than who I am, " adding he cared "about 100 percent of the American people."
When it came for Obama to respond, the President pounced, saying that when Romney said "behind closed doors" that 47 percent considered themselves victims, "think about who he was talking about." He rattled off a litany of key voting groups: the elderly receiving social security, veterans, students and soldiers. Though the questions were from undecided voters inside the hall in a deeply Democratic state, the audience that mattered the most watched on television and was counted in the tens of millions.
The final debate, next Monday in Florida, will be devoted to foreign policy. Opinion polls made the race a close one, with Obama leading in some national surveys and Romney in others.
Despite the Republican's clear gains in surveys in recent days, the President led in several polls of Wisconsin and Ohio, two key Midwestern battlegrounds where Romney and running mate Paul Ryan are campaigning heavily.
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