Barack Obama stages comeback in second TV debate
A rejuvenated Barack Obama threw a spanner into Mitt Romney’s White House campaign with a pugnacious display in the second presidential debate that set an aggressive tone for the final weeks of the US elections.
Attacking his Republican challenger over Libya, the economy, immigration and energy self-sufficiency, Mr Obama showed the feisty side of his character that was missing during his dismal display in the first debate a fortnight ago.
For his part, Mr Romney stood firm during Tuesday night’s bruising encounter, sparring with Mr Obama over his record on unemployment and failure to deliver social security reform and landing blows over foreign policy, gun control and equality in the workplace.
Early polls following the debate at New York’s Hofstra University suggest voters saw the encounter as a score draw, with neither the Democrats nor Republicans gaining any clear ground with only 19 days to go until the 6 November election.
Yet Mr Obama’s supporters believe the 90-minute TV debate, which featured questions from a panel of 82 undecided voters, will have slowed or even set back Mr Romney’s campaign. Mr Obama had seen a seemingly unassailable lead crumble following his performance in the Denver head-to-head.
“Both sides will claim victory,” said Mitchell McKinney, a professor of communication at the University of Missouri. “The real ‘victory’ of this debate, who won or who lost, will be played out by the spinners and campaign operatives trying to convince journalists and others that momentum is on their side.
“Obama did what he needed to do to shore up his doubters, mostly from within his own party. Romney’s debate performance was strong enough for him to go forward with confidence in what seems to be a tied election.”
While a snap CNN poll of undecided voters decided Mr Obama had won the debate by a 46-39 per cent margin, Mr Romney scored higher on who would handle the economy better and last night still led the daily Rasmussen national tracking poll by 1 per cent.
With next Monday’s final TV debate in Boca Raton, Florida, concentrating on foreign policy, Tuesday’s clash gave the candidates the last opportunity to confront each other on the home front. Mr Romney went on the offensive over oil, coal and gas, promising “more drilling, more permits and licences” to make America “energy independent” within eight years.
Mr Obama countered: “When I hear Governor Romney say he’s a big coal guy, keep in mind, when you were governor of Massachusetts, you stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, ‘This plant kills,’ and took great pride in shutting it down. And now suddenly you’re a big champion of coal.”
Observers said some of Mr Romney’s best moments came when he tackled Mr Obama’s handling of the economy.
“What you’re seeing in this country is 23 million people struggling to find a job. And a lot of them have been out of work for a long, long, long time,” said Mr Romney. “We have fewer people working today than we had when the president took office. We need to put people back to work.
“We have four consecutive years where he said when he was running for office he would cut the deficit in half. Instead he’s doubled it. This puts us on a road to Greece.”
Mr Romney said his own “five-point plan” would create 12 million jobs and restore prosperity. “I will not under any circumstances reduce the share that’s being paid by the highest income taxpayers. And I will not, under any circumstances increase taxes on the middle class.”
Repeating his belief that the proposals would leave in place lucrative tax benefits for the wealthy, Mr Obama said: “Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan. He has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules.”
The most heated moment came when the pair clashed after question about the 11 September attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which US ambassador Chris Stevens and three colleagues died.
For weeks, the administration said the incident was a protest against the posting of an anti-Muslim film on the internet before Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, finally admitted on Monday that no such demonstration had taken place.
Mr Romney insisted it took Mr Obama 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror but Candy Crowley, the debate moderator, confirmed he had used those words on 12 September. And when Mr Romney pointed out that the president had taken fund-raising trips to Las Vegas and Colorado following the murders, Mr Obama was furious.
“I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime,” he said.
“A few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families. The suggestion that anybody in my teamwould play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, governor, is offensive.”
The spat probably helped Mr Obama, said Franklin Gilliam, professor of public policy and political science at the University of California. “It was a significant moment. His response was presidential and we saw his indignation that the governor would impugn his character.”
“I will not under any circumstances reduce the share that’s being paid by the highest-income paying taxpayers and I will not under any circumstance increase taxes on the middle class.” Mitt Romney
“Governor Romney says he’s got a five-point plan. Governor Romney doesn’t have a five-point plan, he has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules”
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