President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney began the three-week sprint to Election Day with a testy debate Oct. 16 over domestic issues raised by voters, including a question from an undecided Black voter who wondered how the president will help him.
“Mr. President, I voted for you in 2008. What have you done or accomplished to earn my vote in 2012?” asked Michael Jones in the debate featuring questions from undecided voters at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. “I’m not an optimistic as I was …Most things I need for everyday living are very expensive.”
Obama responded by ticking off for the undecided voter his accomplishments ranging from from health care reform to the U.S. auto industry bailout.
“Does that mean you’re not struggling?” he asked the man. “Absolutely not. A lot of us are…The commitments I’ve made I’ve kept and those that I haven’t been able to keep, it’s not for lack of trying and we’re going to get it done in a second term.”
The assertiveness of that and other responses contrasted with Obama’s more passive approach in the first debate with the former Massachusetts governor. Romney was confronted with a more aggressive opponent in the second of three planned presidential campaign debates. Political observers said Obama won the encounter.
In a debate that centered around balancing the federal budget and touched on pay equality for women and energy policy, the two men were contentious, verbally sparring throughout the event, which was staged in a town hall-style format with questions from voters, not journalists.
The exchanges frequently resulted in the two men interrupting each other. At one point, they paced in circles on the red-carpeted stage in the Hofstra arena like boxers in a prize fight.
A composed, confident Obama allowed Romney to walk into a mistake when he said the Obama's administration misled Americans over what caused the attack at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, last month. Four Americans were killed.
The president, while accepting responsibility for the vulnerability of the Middle East outpost, noted that his immediate response to the attack singled out terrorists as the culprits and steered Romney to a transcript of his Rose Garden remarks a day later. It was confirmed by the debate moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, that Obama had attributed the act to terrorists, though Romney argued that it took the president “14 days” to blame Islamic extremists for the violence.
One of the verbal gaffes by Romney came in response to a question about equal rights for women. As he recounted how, as a governor, he addressed the absence of women appointees in key state positions, he noted that he had lists of female candidates compiled, resulting in what he called “binders full of women.”
The statement triggered thousands of critical Twitter comments before that debate ended.
Romney assailed Obama about the state of the nation’s economy and outlined a five-step path toward what he believes would produce economic recovery, including revising the tax code to put a ceiling on tax deductions.
But, Obama told the crowd of 82 undecided voters, his opponent’s approach is not in the interests of the middle class.
"Governor Romney doesn't have a five-point plan," the president argued. "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.”
The candidates also jousted about energy policy at length. Romney said more domestic fossil fuel exploration, especially on federal land should get under way, with fewer federal regulations, while Obama restated his policy that alternative energy forms, such as wind and solar energy, are needed for the nation to achieve energy independence.
The third and final debate is scheduled for Oct. 22.