The stakes were exceedingly high and that the 2nd presidential debate a dramatic event not to be missed. Barack Obama woke up out of his slumber and wrestled a victory in his 2nd debate with Mitt Romney. At one moment the tension became so high that could feel that they wanted to smack one another like parliamentarians in Italy even modern times happen to do. But to become president your can smack your opponent in a TV ad but not with your own fists in front of millions of people. We did not see a fist fight but a great duel for the presidency. Round 2 goes to Obama. JIM RUTENBERG and JEFF ZELENY in the NY Times provides the details of the evening.
Rivals Bring Bare Fists to Rematch
President Obama and Mitt Romney engaged Tuesday in one of the most intensive clashes in a televised presidential debate, with tensions between them spilling out in interruptions, personal rebukes and accusations of lying as they parried over the last four years under Mr. Obama and what the next four would look like under a President Romney.
Competing for a shrinking sliver of undecided voters, many of them women, their engagements at times bordered on physical as they circled each other or bounded out of their seats while the other was speaking, at times more intent to argue than to address the questions over jobs, taxes, energy, immigration and a range of other issues.
Mr. Obama, criticized by his own party for a lackluster debate performance two weeks ago, this time pressed an attack that allowed him to often dictate the terms of the debate. But an unbowed Mr. Romney was there to meet him every time, and seemed to relish the opportunity to challenge a sitting president
Mr. Obama’s assertive posture may well have stopped the clamor of concern from supporters that had been weighing on his campaign with three weeks and one more debate to go before the election.
The president’s broadsides started with a critique of Mr. Romney for his opposition to his administration’s automobile bailout in his first answer — “Governor Romney said we should let Detroit go bankrupt” — and ended more than 90 minutes later with an attack on Mr. Romney’s secretly taped comments about the “47 percent” of Americans who he said did not take responsibility for their own lives.
“When he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considers themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility — think about who he was talking about,” the president said toward the end of the debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
It was as if a different, highly charged president had taken the stage rather than the reluctant, disengaged-seeming candidate who showed up to meet Mr. Romney at their first debate two weeks ago.
Mr. Romney stayed acutely focused on Mr. Obama’s record in the face of it all, saying that the president had failed to deliver what he promised in his 2008 campaign and arguing repeatedly and strenuously, “We just can’t afford four more years like the last four years.”
He credited Mr. Obama for being “great as a speaker and describing his vision.” But then he brought down the ultimate hammer in a challenge to an incumbent: “That’s wonderful, except we have a record to look at. And that record shows he just hasn’t been able to cut the deficit, to put in place reforms for Medicare and Social Security to preserve them, to get us the rising incomes we need.”
The two took pains to fashion their arguments toward female voters, with the debate seeming at times directed entirely at them. Mr. Obama mentioned Mr. Romney’s vow to cut government funding for Planned Parenthood at least four times; Mr. Romney repeatedly mentioned that under Mr. Obama: “There are three and a half million more women living in poverty today than when the president took office. We don’t have to live like this.”
And Mr. Romney sought to broaden his appeal to women by softening his tone on reproductive issues, saying: “Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives.”
Emphasizing his record of diversity as governor based on his own recruiting, he said, “I brought us whole binders full of women.”
It is a bit of conventional wisdom that undecided voters seek comity in their leaders. There was none of that Tuesday.
At times the back and forth was personal in small ways. Having already invoked the 14 percent effective tax rate that Mr. Romney personally paid, Mr. Obama mentioned Mr. Romney’s investment in Chinese companies. Then Mr. Romney asked if Mr. Obama had looked at his own pension for its investments.
“I don’t look at my pension,” Mr. Obama said. “It’s not as big as yours.”
But at other moments the verbal sparring took on a deeper, emotional resonance, such as when Mr. Romney suggested that the administration was intentionally misleading in its shifting explanations for the attack on the American mission in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the deaths of the American ambassador, J. Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans there.
“The suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive,” Mr. Obama said, standing and looking intently at his opponent. “That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president.”
Mr. Obama noted that he had gone to the Rose Garden the day after the attack to say “this was an act of terror.”
Mr. Romney asserted that Mr. Obama had not said that until 14 days later, prompting the moderator, Candy Crowley of CNN, to interject, “He did in fact, sir.” Mr. Obama, interjected with a hint of anger, “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?” (She said Mr. Romney’s broader point, about shifting explanations, was “correct.”)
The vitriol that has been coursing through the campaign for months, in television ads and dueling speeches, played out at exceptionally close range for much of the 90-minute debate.
The exchanges were intense and personal, with Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney repeatedly leaving their stools and invading each other’s space on the stage, Mr. Romney frequently looking at the president intently from his stool and interrupting as much as the president interrupted him.
At times they were within striking distance of each other as they forcefully made their points.
“If I could have you sit down, Governor Romney,” Ms. Crowley said. “Thank you.”
But while Mr. Romney was on the defensive for much of the debate, his arguments were built around a theme he returned to again and again: the Obama administration’s record and its failure to restart the economy, saying his business know-how was what was called for now. He used a litany of statistics to make his case that the economy has not improved and that the president has not lived up to his pledges.
At least a half-dozen times, Mr. Romney said that 23 million Americans are out of work. And he said that 580,000 women had lost jobs in the last four years.
“The president has tried, but his policies haven’t worked,” Mr. Romney said, calling Mr. Obama a great speaker with a poor record.
The two tangled over tax policy, health care and spending, delivering what have become familiar arguments at this late stage in the campaign, but they also covered new ground under questioning from an audience of undecided voters. One woman said she was disappointed by Mr. Obama, but worried that Mr. Romney would return to policies of the Bush administration.
In blunt terms, Mr. Romney distanced himself from former President George W. Bush, criticizing him for leaving behind a rising budget deficit, failing to deal aggressively on trade deals with China and for favoring big business over small ones.
“President Bush and I are different people,” he said, “and these are different times.”
Ms. Crowley, the moderator, defied the rules of the Commission on Presidential Debates — negotiated by the two campaigns — pressing the candidates for a follow-up after the very first question. Ms. Crowley had made it clear that she would do that and had not signed anything agreeing to those conditions, but she also stood to the side and let the two men go after each other throughout the debate.
The questions came from voters who said they had not decided between Mr. Obama or Mr. Romney or were open to changing their minds in the final three weeks of the race. A question about the nation’s immigration laws prompted one of the longest exchanges between the men, with Mr. Romney pointing out that the president did not meet his promise of achieving comprehensive immigration legislation during his first term.
“This is a president who has not been able to do what he said he’d do,” said Mr. Romney, who pledged to pass an immigration overhaul in his first year as president, a sharp departure from his anti-immigration tone in the Republican nominating fight one year ago.
The pressure on both men was intense.
Three weeks before Election Day, there was a sense within both parties that Mr. Romney had succeeded in using the first debate to break an important psychological barrier by putting himself on equal footing with Mr. Obama and showing a presidential bearing before an audience of roughly 70 million people. And Tuesday night was Mr. Obama’s opportunity to try to restore his campaign’s momentum,.
Mr. Obama’s performance came just as the Romney campaign was starting its own huge advertising blitz — after months of lopsided pummeling by Mr. Obama on television — in the closing phase of the race.
On Tuesday his campaign placed $12 million more in commercials in the nine major battlegrounds,.
And, unannounced, it began running a new commercial featuring a woman who identifies herself as a former Obama voter who researched Mr. Romney’s record on abortion and found it was not as anti-abortion as Mr. Obama has said, noting, for instance, that he supports abortion in cases of rape and incest.