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Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was just as feisty in the second presidential debate as he was in the first. The big difference in Tuesday night’s debate was President Barack Obama actually fought back — hard.
While an aggressive President Obama called his rival’s economic proposal a “one-point plan” to help the rich at the expense of the middle class, a fired-up Romney reminded the national television audience of the nation’s painfully slow recovery from the worst recession in decades.
“That’s been his philosophy in the private sector,” Obama said of his rival. “That’s been his philosophy as governor. That’s been his philosophy as a presidential candidate. You can make a lot of money and pay lower tax rates than somebody who makes a lot less.”
Unable to respond at length because of the debate’s rules, Romney said the accusations were “way off the mark.”
There are “23 million people struggling to find a job. … The president’s policies have been exercised over the last four years and they haven’t put America back to work,” Romney said. “We have fewer people working today than when he took office…The middle class has been crushed over the last four years.”
Economic growth has been slow throughout Obama’s term in office, and unemployment only recently dipped below 8 percent for the first time since he moved into the White House.
Romney also explained even though the unemployment rate is officially 7.8 percent, the real rate is closer to 10.7 percent once you factor in the number of people that have dropped out of the workforce.
The two candidates interrupted one another early and often, speaking over each other to the point that neither could be understood.
“You’ll get your chance in a moment. I’m still speaking,” Romney said at one point, cutting off Obama.
The rivals disagreed about taxes, measures to reduce the deficit, energy, pay equity for women and health care issues. 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.
However, the president’s more aggressive side was clearly present during the debate, delivering the type of lively performance that his Democratic base were hoping for the first time around.
While most of the debate was focused on policy differences, there was one more-personal moment, when Obama said Romney had investments in China.
“Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?” Romney interrupted.
“You know, I don’t look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours,” shot back Obama to his wealthier rival.
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One heated exchange early in the debate focused on competing claims about whether energy production is increasing or slowing. Obama accused Romney of misrepresenting what has happened – a theme he made time and again. Romney strode across the stage to confront Obama face to face, just feet from the audience. The two argued forcefully at close quarters before the debate moved on.
Watch the exchange here:
Obama made his pitch as to why he deserves another four years as president. He mentioned the death of Osama bin Laden, lower taxes for the middle class and small businesses and an end to the war in Iraq.
“I think you know better,” Romney replied. “We just can’t afford four more years like the last four years.”
The Republican pointed out Obama’s broken promises on unemployment, the deficit and Social Security reform.
Watch Romney, Obama make their jobs pitch here:
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 U.S. ambassador to Libya in a terrorist attack at an American post in Benghazi late in the debate.
Romney highlighted the fact that it took the administration nearly two weeks to admit that the attack was an act of terror and not the result of an anti-Muslim YouTube video. He also said the continuing chaos throughout the Middle East calls the president’s entire foreign policy into question.
When moderator Candy Crowley of CNN said the president had in fact called it an act of terror the day after the attack, Obama, prompted, “Say that a little louder, Candy.”
Romney then clarified that the administration continued to insist the attack was in response to the anti-Muslim video, releasing contradicting statements in the days following the deadly assault.
Obama came out swinging, telling Romney it was “offensive” to suggest that anyone in his administration would play politics or mislead the American people about the attack.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.