HEMPSTEAD: US President Barack Obama launched aggressive attacks against Republican rival Mitt Romney on jobs, energy and Libya in their second debate yesterday as the Democrat tried to reclaim the momentum in a tight White House race. Obama was much sharper and more energetic than in their opening debate two weeks ago, when his listless performance was heavily criticised and gave Romney’s campaign a much-needed boost in the run-up to the November 6 election.
The president scolded Romney for accusing him of trying to take political advantage of the attack by Islamist militants in Libya last month that killed four Americans, including the US Ambassador Chris Stevens.
“That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president, that’s not what I do as commander in chief,” Obama said during the debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, calling the accusation ‘offensive’. “I’m the president and I’m always responsible, and that’s why nobody’s more interested in finding out exactly what happened,” Obama said.
Romney questioned Obama’s claim that he called the Benghazi attack ‘an act of terror’ in the White House Rose Garden the day afterward, but moderator Candy Crowley of CNN corrected the Republican. Transcripts show Obama did use the term that day. The Republican accused Obama of failing to follow through on the promises of his 2008 campaign.
In one of his stronger moments in the 90-minute debate, Romney took aim at Obama’s economic record in office, saying it has led to 15 million more people on food stamps, slow growth and a lack of jobs.
“The middle class is getting crushed under the policies of a president who has not understood what it takes to get the economy working again. He keeps saying, ‘Look, I’ve created 5 million jobs.’ That’s after losing 5 million jobs. The entire record is such that the unemployment has not been reduced in this country,” the former Massachusetts governor said.
Polls showed voters judged Obama the winner. A CNN survey gave him the edge by 46 percent to 39 per cent, while CBS had Obama the winner by 37 per cent to 30 per cent.
“I think Obama won this one. I’ll say I’m a Romney supporter, but I don’t think he effectively got all his points,” said audience member James Digirolamo, from Long Island, New York.
“I was a little disappointed how the moderator handled the debate, in particular the issue with the ‘terror’ remark,” he said, referring to criticism by Republicans that moderator Crowley intervened in favor of Obama during the exchange over Libya.
Both candidates roamed the stage to talk directly to participants in the town-hall format, where undecided voters from Long Island asked the questions.
At times the two men circled each other warily at centre stage like prize fighters, talking over each other and bickering frequently about the rules and who had exceeded their time.
Romney confronted Obama face-to-face at one point to ask repeatedly if licenses and permits for energy drilling on federal land had been reduced during his administration.
Recent polls have put the race for the White House at a virtual dead heat just three weeks ahead of the election.
Obama seems to have stopped his slide after the last debate. In a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll yesterday, he gained a bit more ground on Romney for the third straight day and led 46 per cent to 43 per cent.