HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) — An aggressive President Barack Obama accused challenger Mitt Romney of favoring a “one-point plan” to help the rich in America and playing politics with the deadly terrorist attack in Libya in a debate last night 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. He said the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya was part of an unraveling of the administration’s foreign policy.
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.
Obama and Romney disagreed, forcefully and repeatedly — about taxes, the bailout of the auto industry, measures to reduce the deficit, energy, pay equity for women and health care as well as foreign policy across 90 minutes of a town-hall style debate.
Immigration prompted yet another clash, Romney saying Obama had failed to pursue the comprehensive legislation he promised at the dawn of his administration, and the president saying Republican obstinacy made a deal impossible.
Romney gave as good as he got.
“You’ll get your chance in a moment. I’m still speaking,” the former Massachusetts governor said at one point while Obama was mid-sentence, drawing a gasp from the audience. He said the president’s policies had failed to jumpstart the economy and had cramped energy production.
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.