Fierce Obama Makes A Comeback
President Barack Obama gave a stronger showing Tuesday night than the first presidential debate two weeks ago, aggressively attacking Romney on the holes in his campaign promises. But it's unclear if Obama's slight edge in Tuesday's debate will affect polls in key swing states, such as Ohio, Iowa and Nevada, that will decide who the next president is.
Obama and his Republican opponent Mitt Romney met at Hofstra University in Nassau County, New York to face 82 undecided voters in a town hall-style debate Tuesday night.
The town hall format for the debate allowed for a more personal debate, and it served Obama well, given his background as a lawyer.
Moderator Candy Crowley kept things cool as audience members lobbed questions on future prospects for current college students, long-term unemployment, gas prices and tax credits. Obama walked on stage riding a slight bump in polls Monday, but Romney's clear victory in their last debate Oct. 3 provided a hurdle for the incumbent candidate. Overall, this match-up took on a more heated tone.
A CBS snap poll said that 37 percent of people polled thought Presdient Barack Obama won the debate, 30 percent thought Mitt Romney won and 33 percent thought it was a tie.
A first-time voter asked the first question. All of the questioners were from Nassau County. In 2008, Nassau County voted in favor of President Obama with a margin of 9 percent over John McCain. Nassau County has a population that's almost 80 percent white, with 5 percent of its people living under the poverty level. The median household income is significantly larger than the state's. They make almost $94,000 a year. In 2012, Forbes listed Nassau as the 12th richest county in the United States.
Jeremy Epstein, a college student, started the debate asking what the nominees would do to ensure that he will have a chance to get a job once he graduates.
Mitt Romney said he wants to make sure that Pell grant and loan programs make it possible for people to go to college. He said he knows what it takes to create "good jobs" again after how the middle class "has been crushed" in the last four years under debt.
Obama said that he wants to build on the 5 million jobs he's built in the private sector alone. He cited Romney's quote about letting Detroit go bankrupt, and reminded Epstein that he has faith in American workers.
Obama said that he wants "everyone" to get an education to train for available jobs. He also mentioned using energy sources like solar, wind and biofuels, as well as redirecting the money used for the military to education. Moderator Candy Crowley asked about those who have faced long-term unemployment who "need a job right now."
Romney hopped on the chance to criticize the unemployment rate that's supposedly grown under the Obama administration. He said he has a five-point plan to create 12 million new jobs for America.
Romney also rebutted the "Detroit" comment by saying that Obama actually took many companies bankrupt, rather than just talking about it.
Obama said that what Romney said "just isn't true," because Romney wanted to take them through bankruptcy without seeing it through.
"Gov. Romney doesn't have a five-point plan, he has a one-point plan, and that is to see that the people at the top play by a different set of rules," Obama said.
"That's what's been squeezing middle class families," he added.
Romney made sure to add that Obama's Detroit answer was "way off the mark."
Phillip Tricolla nervously asked the next question, about energy and gas prices.
Obama said that we can't just reduce traditional energy sources but also double clean energy production. He said that he wants to build on the direction he's already headed, with a continuing focus on finding efficient energy plans. Romney's plan, he said, is for the oil companies to make the energy policies, without concern for clean energy.
"I expect those new energy sources to be built here in the United States," Obama said.
Romney said we should focus on Obama's actions and not his rhetoric on the subject.
He alleged that Obama prevents "us" from making leaps in oil and coal. He said he had been in "coal country" and people had grabbed his arm asking Romney to save his job.
"Let's take advantage of the energy sources we have as well as the energy sources for the future," Romney said.
If elected, lost jobs will come back within eight years, Romney said. Crowley asked if "we're looking at the new normal" with gas prices.
Obama said that Romney had championed the closing of a coal plant in Massachusetts while he was governor.
"Our oil imports are down to their lowest levels in 20 years," Obama said.
The new strategies for clean energy, Obama said, will create more jobs.
"But that's not what you've done in the last four years," Romney said.
Obama and Romney started to banter, moving toward each other on the stage, with Romney accusing Obama of sidestepping the truth and Obama saying that Romney's plan makes no sense.
"I don't think anyone believes that you're for oil, gas and coal," Romney said.
He said that current gas prices indicate Obama's weakness on the energy issue.
Crowley asked Obama to counter this statement.
Obama said that the economic crisis, which was orchestrated by economic policies Romney supported, caused gas prices to drop as low as they did in 2009 when he took office.
Mary Eileen Pollano asked the third question, concerning taxes, especially in regard to the middle class.
Romney reiterated stats about how prices have raised over the last four years. He said that the "people at the top" will pay the same they have been, while the middle class will get a tax break. Obama reiterated his four-year support of middle class families and small businesses.
"If we're seriously about reducing the budget…then in addition to some tough spending cuts, we have to be sure that the wealthy are doing a bit more," Obama said.
He claimed that 97 percent of Americans won't see a rise in tax rates, and that Republicans have prevented him from changing the way things are.
Obama said that Romney said on 60 Minutes recently that it's fair for people who make $20 million a year to pay lower taxes, that it makes the economy grow.
"You should believe him, since that's been his history," Obama said.
Romney reasserted that the rich's tax rates wouldn't change, and that the middle class would see more tax relief. He said that because he's worked in the private sector, he knows what makes jobs.
"We haven't heard from the governor any specifics but Big Bird and Planned Parenthood on how he's going to change investments," Obama said.
A woman asked a question about job equality for women, with Obama invoking his mother and grandmother, who were both smart, but could never rise to the top.
Romney claimed that in his business record he advocated for female workers and reached the highest level of female employment in his area.
Obama talked about a bill that he signed that supported women workers and alleged that Romney had said that he didn't readily tell reporters if he supported it.
Obama then hit Romney on the GOP nominee's opposition to Planned Parenthood, which Obama said is pivotal to helping women work. The next question was from a woman who said she's an undecided voter because she's disappointed in how things have been in the last four years, going on to ask how Romney sees himself as being different from George W. Bush.
Starting off, he said that he would have more effective energy policies, would be harder on China and will get America to a balanced budget--all things Bush couldn't do.
Continuing the GOP theme throughout the debates, he also said that he'd champion small business, unlike Bush.
"My priority is jobs. I know how to make that happen," Romney said.
Obama said that he would continue to move forward from the Bush-era economic imbalance, when only the rich were doing well. He added, "Governor, you're the last person to get tough on China," and used the slant of the question to show how Romney has become more extreme than Bush on social policy on social security and Planned Parenthood.
An African-American man asked Obama to tell him why he should be just as optimistic now as he was in 2008.
Obama ran down his alleged successes in punishing foreign enemies and curbing Wall Street, but agreed that people are still struggling. He said that another four years will let him do more for the people on energy and tax policies, while a Romney presidency would make things worse for middle-class Americans.
"I can tell you that if you elect President Obama you know what you're going to get," Romney countered.
He reminded the man of the supposed 9 million jobs lost during the last four years, and detailed how the full effect of Obamacare will further oppress the middle class.
A Hispanic woman asked Romney about immigration.
"We welcome legal immigrants in this country," he said.
He carefully skirted through the question, offering that he thinks the children of illegal immigrations should have a "pathway" to having a chance of staying in America. Obama applauded people who want to take risks coming to America to succeed. He said he's focused on "fixing" the immigration system to make it easier and cheaper for people to immigrant legally and to have jobs. He added that the flow of illegal immigration over borders is at its lowest in 40 years, and that the illegal immigrants that America should remove are the "gangbangers," not the college kids.
Romney, he said, thinks the Arizona law, which many say racially profiles people, is "the model for the nation." Romney refuted this, saying that he'd championed a specific portion of the law. The candidates started to talk at once, trying to get words in edgewise.
Romney asked Obama if he'd looked at his pension.
"I don't look at my pension, it's not as big as yours," Obama said.
A man asked the candidates about security issues. Obama claimed that he has personal investment in the safety of Americans who defend foreign security.
"I'm the one who has to greet those coffins when they come home," Obama said.
The president pressed further against Romney for politicizing the Libyan embassy attack, offering that it wasn't in character of a presidential candidate. He ran down his successes in foreign security, including the killing of Osama Bin Laden, saying that it showed that he delivers on promises relating to foreign security.
Romney dragged out his continued criticism of the president's cluelessness in the aftermath of the attack, but also mentioned how the president decided to make campaign stops in the days after the attack. He said that it called into question the president's whole foreign policy.
Crowley asked Obama if Hillary Clinton's statement that took responsibility for the handling of the attacks absolved him of guilt.
Obama said that "she works for me," and that he's been nothing but aggressive and empathetic regarding the attack.
Romney asked the crowd to note the fact that Obama said he'd called it a "terrorist attack" the day after in the rose garden, then claimed that Obama hadn't said that till 14 days later.
Crowley corrected Romney, and the Republican's face flushed.
The next question concerned gun control.
While recognizing the country's history of fair use of the Second Amendment, Obama detailed experiences he'd had with families of the shooting in Aurora, California. He said that in his hometown of Chicago, the violence comes from "cheap handguns" rather than AK-47s.
"I'm not in favor of new pieces of legislation on guns," Romney said.
Rather than changing legislation on guns, Romney supports changing the "culture" of America that will make families stronger. He then used the "failure" of the Fast and Furious program to highlight a "tragedy" that's occurred during the Obama administration.
Obama said that he and Romney agree on focusing on parents and schools.
The next question hit on the outsourcing of jobs.
Romney said this was a "great question" because tons of jobs have been lost to overseas in the last four years. He promised that his presidency would make it more attractive for people to work in America by ending "trickle down" economy.
The president responded by saying that Romney rewards those who invest overseas with tax codes. The last questioner asked what the candidates thought the biggest misperception was about them.
Romney said that the president's campaign has tried to paint the idea that he doesn't care about everyone. He said his passion for all people comes from his belief in God. He then listed reasons why Americans don't need to "settle."
Obama covered the other side of the coin, disputing the idea that he thinks government is the primary form of influence in America.
He said he believes in self-responsibility, but also that "everyone should have a fair shot." He retold Romney's "47 percent" comments about Obama supporters.
"I want to fight for them. That's what I've been doing the last four years," he said.
Read more of Neon Tommy's debate coverage here.
Reach Assistant News Editor Michael Juliani here.