Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

October 17, 2012

Town hall heats up: Obama, Romney feisty in second debate

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — An aggressive President Barack Obama ripped into Mitt Romney’s economic blueprint in a town hall style debate Tuesday night, accusing his rival of favoring a “one-point plan” to help the rich at the expense of the middle class. The Republican protested the charge was way off the mark.

“The middle class has been crushed over the last four years,” Romney said in the opening moments of the 90-minute debate, the second of three between the two men precisely three weeks before Election Day in a close race for the White House.

The president was feistier from the outset than he had been in their initial encounter, where 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 challenged Romney from the outset on economics and energy policy, accusing him of switching positions on coal production and declaring that his economic plan was a “sketchy deal” that the public should reject.

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.

The open-stage format, with no physical objects between them, placed incumbent and challenger face to face and, when they chose, directly in each other’s faces. Their physical encounters 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.

The rivals disagreed about taxes, measures to reduce the deficit, energy, pay equity for women and health care issues —  all in less than the first half of the 90-minute debate at Hofstra University.

Both men had rehearsed extensively for the encounter, a turnabout for Obama.

“I had a bad night,” the president conceded, days after he and Romney shared a stage for the first time, in Denver. His aides made it known he didn’t intend to be as deferential to his challenger this time, and the presidential party decamped for a resort in Williamsburg, Va., for rehearsals that consumed the better part of three days.

Romney rehearsed in Massachusetts and again after arriving on Long Island on debate day, with less to make up for.

“The first debate was huge and we’ve seen our numbers move all across the country,” his wife, Ann, said before joining her husband in New York.

In a campaign filled with controversy, even the evening’s ground rules sparked one.

Candy Crowley of CNN, the moderator, said she expected to be following up at times on questions from the audience. A formal memorandum drafted by the two campaigns said her role would be more limited, but she and the evening’s sponsor, the Commission on Presidential Debates said they weren’t party to it.

The questions were from about undecided voters inside the hall in a deeply Democratic state. But the audience that mattered most watched on television and was counted in the tens of millions. Crucially important: viewers in the nine battlegrounds where the race is likely to be settled.

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.

Barring a last-minute shift in the campaign, Obama is on course to win states and the District of Columbia that account for 237 of the 270 electoral votes needed for victory. The same is true for Romney in states with 191 electoral votes.

The remaining 110 electoral votes are divided among the hotly contested battleground states of Florida (29), North Carolina (15), Virginia (13) New Hampshire (4), Iowa (6), Colorado (9), Nevada (6), Ohio (18) and Wisconsin (10).

Obama has campaigned in the past several days by accusing Romney of running away from some of the conservative positions he took for tax cuts and against abortion earlier in the year when he was trying to win the Republican nomination.

“Maybe you’re wondering what to believe about Mitt Romney,” says one ad, designed to remind voters of the Republican’s strong opposition to abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at stake.

Romney countered by stressing both in person and through his television advertising the slow pace of the economic recovery, which has left growth sluggish and unemployment high throughout Obama’s term. Joblessness recently declined to 7.8 percent, dropping below 8 percent for the first time since the president took office.

Romney also has stepped up his criticism of the administration’s handling of the terrorist attack against the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi,  Libya, more than a month ago that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

So far, the Republican challenger has not aired any television advertising on the issue, a suggestion that strategists believe it dims in importance next to the economy.

But the attack sparked one of the sharpest exchanges in last week’s vice presidential debate, when Ryan cited it in asserting that the administration’s foreign policy was unraveling and Vice President Joe Biden accused his rival of uttering “a bunch of malarkey.”

Biden also said that “we” had not been aware of a request for additional security at the facility, a statement that the White House later said applied to the president and vice president.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday she accepted responsibility for the level of security assigned to the consulate.

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