PRESIDENT Barack Obama reignited the race for the White House last night with an aggressive performance that sent sparks flying in the second presidential debate.
• President Obama makes amends for first performance
• Rivals clash over Libya incident and the economy
• CNN poll gives edge to Obama in second debate
Needing a strong display to counter his lacklustre showing in the first head-to-head a fortnight ago, Mr Obama attacked his Republican challenger Mitt Romney over his plans for reviving the economy and for making political capital over last month’s deadly terror attack on the US consulate in Libya.
Mr Romney, meanwhile, stood his ground in numerous testy exchanges, accusing the president of breaking promises made before his first term in office and leaving 23 million Americans looking for work.
While there was no decisive winner on the night, the Democrats are likely to emerge happier from the debate at New York’s Hofstra University, analysts say. Some believe that the momentum Mr Romney had picked up in recent opinion polls for the Nov 6 election will have been at least slowed by Mr Obama’s vibrant display, and possibly halted altogether.
“It’s hard to deny the president is back in the fight, with fire in his belly,” Dr Franklin Gilliam, professor of public policy and political science at the Luskin School of Public Affairs, University of California, Los Angeles, told The Scotsman.
“He had to show energy and passion and a level of combativeness to prove he was willing to fight for his job. He did that and it was a considerably better performance.”
One of the fiercest salvoes followed a question about the Sept 11 attack on the consulate in Benghazi, in which US ambassador Chris Stevens and three colleagues were assassinated. For weeks Hillary Clinton, Mr Obama’s secretary of state, insisted the incident was a protest against the posting on YouTube of an anti-Muslim film before finally admitting on Monday that no demonstration had taken place.
“It’s interesting the president just said… that on the day after the attack, he went in the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror. I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror,” Mr Romney said.
Candy Crowley, the debate moderator, corrected Mr Romney and confirmed that he had used those words on Sept 12. And when the former Massachusetts governor pointed out that the president had taken fund-raising trips to Las Vegas and Colorado in the two days immediately following the murders, Mr Obama reacted with fury.
“The day after the attack 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.
“And then 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 team, whether the secretary of state, our UN ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president, that’s not what I do as Commander in Chief.”
Mr Obama was also on the offensive over Mr Romney’s so-called five-point plan for restoring economic prosperity, which the Republican insists will create 12 million new jobs and cut taxes on the middle classes and small businesses.
Referring to his belief the proposals would leave in place lucrative tax deductions 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.
“That’s been his philosophy in the private sector, that’s been his philosophy as governor, that’s been his philosophy as a presidential candidate.”
But Mr Romney was equally as scathing during the debate, asking Mr Obama five times in a sharp exchange over energy policy to confirm that he had halved the number of permits for oil and gas drilling on federal land and waters, and blasting the president’s first-term record on 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,” he said.
“We have fewer people working today than we had when the president took office. We have not made the progress we need to make 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. We’ve gone from $10 trillion of national debt, to $16 trillion of national debt. If the president were reelected, we’d go to almost $20 trillion of national debt. This puts us on a road to Greece.”
Dr Gilliam said he believed Mr Romney held his own in the debate, despite breaking some of the pre-arranged time regulations and occasionally drifting off-topic.
“The governor did fine,” he said. “It will be interesting to see how his disregard for the rules and moderator plays with the public but some will always see him as a take charge kind of a guy and others as a bully.”
Others believe Mr Obama had the edge. In a nationwide poll conducted by CNN after the debate, 46 per cent of respondents said they thought the president had won with only 39 per cent backing Mr Romney.
The final debate will take place in Boca Raton, Florida, next Monday, October 22, and will cover the candidates’ foreign affairs policies.