Hempstead - A combative Barack Obama landed telling blows on challenger
Mitt Romney on Tuesday as naked dislike boiled over between the White
House foes in a tense debate three weeks from election day.
Obama bounced off the ropes after a dismal showing in their first
encounter two weeks ago, knowing his tumbling poll numbers could doom
him to the historical ignominy of a single term without a sharp
Early signs were that Obama's passion-fuelled
performance will revive optimism and enthusiasm among Democrats in his
bid for a second term, though Romney, touting entrepreneurship, scored
blows of his own on the economy.
one spellbinding exchange, Obama stared directly at Romney and rebuked
him over his criticism of his White House for its handling of an attack
on the US consulate in Benghazi on September 11, which killed four
"The suggestion that anybody on my team, whether it's a
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," Obama said wagging his finger at Romney across the stage of
their town-hall debate.
"That's not what we do. That's not what I
do as president, not what I do as commander-in-chief," Obama said, in a
fiery moment in one of the most ill-tempered and contentious White
House debates ever.
Seeking to recover, Romney then seemed to
stumble, accusing the president of taking days to call the attack, which
killed US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, a "terror attack".
Obama snapped back that he had indeed referred to the assault as "an
act of terror", telling Romney: "check the transcript" before moments
later fixing his rival with a withering stare and saying "Please proceed
CNN moderator Candy Crowley confirmed that Obama did
in fact use the phrase "act of terror" in the White House Rose Garden
the day after the attack.
The exact quote confirms that Obama did
imply the assault was an act of terror, despite Republican claims he
laid the blame fully on an anti-Muslim YouTube video made on US soil.
"No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation," Obama said in the remarks on September 12.
seized on the moment to question Romney's credentials to serve as
commander-in-chief even before the debate ended, while conservatives
were hammering Crowley for what they said was an unfair intervention.
anger crackled in the debate hall, the candidates were freed from
podiums at Hofstra University, New York and roamed the floor, often
encroaching on each other's personal space.
Minutes into the
clash, Republican Romney and Democrat Obama stood just a few feet apart,
trading charge and counter charge in a furious verbal slanging match
over economic policy.
In another heated exchange over energy,
Romney triggered an audible gasp of shock in the hall hosting the
debate, when he told the president: "You'll get your chance in a moment,
I'm still speaking."
"Not true, Governor Romney, not true,"
Obama said, after Romney savaged the president's record on oil
production over the last four years.
Romney's strongest moments
came when he delivered stinging indictments of the Obama economy,
charging the president with miserably failing to restore speedy jobs
growth and to cut ballooning deficits.
"The president wants to do well, I understand," Romney said, in a sorrowful tone of voice.
"But the policies he put in place have not let this economy take off as it could have."
'On a road to Greece'
Romney also furiously accused Obama over debt.
gone from $10 trillion of national debt to $16 trillion of national
debt. If the president were re-elected, we'd go to almost $20 trillion
of national debt. This puts us on a road to Greece," he said, before
also vowing to stand up to China over what he says are trade and
Obama hit back that Romney had invested in companies in China that were pioneers of outsourcing US jobs.
"Governor, you're the last person who's going to get tough on China."
Romney tried to counter-attack, asking Obama if his pension scheme
included investment in low wage economies abroad, the president openly
"I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours. I don't check it that often."
21 days before the election, the obvious antipathy between the
candidates reflected stakes that could hardly be higher as national
polls and the race in battleground states tightens into a dead heat.
At moments, Romney quibbled with Crowley, charging that Obama had interrupted him in contravention of the rules of the debate.
a 65-year-old former governor of Massachusetts, took the first question
of the clash, about the jobs crisis, and bemoaned the plight of
ordinary Americans who he said had been "crushed over the last four
"I know what it takes to create good jobs and to make sure you have the opportunity you deserve," Romney said.
51, was quick off his stool in response, looking 20-year-old questioner
Jeremy Epstein straight in the eye, fixing him with an intense stare as
he promised to quicken the US economic recovery.
both men were gathering at debate watching parties and another huge
television audience was expected, though perhaps not so big as the 70
million that tuned into the first clash.
In one festive scene at
The Apollo, the legendary Harlem theatre that helped launch the Jackson
Five, Billie Holliday and James Brown, was packed with an excited crowd
hoping to see the biggest political talent show on earth.
"President Obama has his own swagger. He needs to look in the mirror and rediscover his mojo," said Esther Armah, a radio host.