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Round 2: President Obama turns up the heat in combative debate (+video)

In a shift from the usual style of a town-hall debate, both Obama and Romney used the questions – and the physical space on stage – to directly challenge each other and, on occasion, the moderator.

By Staff writer / October 17, 2012

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Obama answer a question at the same time during the second presidential campaign debate in Hempstead, N.Y.

Jim Young/Reuters

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President Obama delivered a far more forceful performance in his second presidential debate against Mitt Romney, as he and the former Massachusetts governor clashed over a wide range of questions from undecided voters.

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Obama and Romney clash over security in Libya

Debating at Hofstra University in New York’s Long Island, Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney both had the gloves off in this town-hall debate, as they sparred over questions that ranged from the economy and gasoline prices to Libya, immigration, gun control, and gender disparity in pay.

The outcome was less clear-cut than that of the debate in Denver, with neither candidate scoring the huge victory that Romney seemed to in their last encounter.

The big question as the debate began was whether Obama could undo some of the damage he did two weeks ago in Denver, where he was widely viewed as losing badly to Romney. In the weeks since that debate, Romney has largely overtaken Obama in the polls and is now leading in some key swing states. Obama certainly delivered a stronger performance this time around, and seemed unafraid of confronting Romney on a number of issues he had shied away from two weeks ago.

“Very little of what Governor Romney just said is true,” he said early on in the debate, in response to criticisms by Romney of his energy policy and statements that he had reduced oil and gas drilling on federal lands.

It set the stage for a willingness to spar with Romney – an interaction that often doesn’t happen in town-hall debates, where the emphasis is on engaging with the questioner – and it happened repeatedly through the night, as Romney and Obama tussled with each other about their positions and statements on energy, the Libya attack, immigration, and tax policy.

Romney’s strongest moments in the debate came when he characterized Obama’s first four years in stark terms.

“I think you know that these last four years haven't been so good as the president just described and that you don't feel like you’re confident that the next four years are going to be much better either,” Romney told a questioner who said he had voted for Obama four years ago but was less optimistic this time around.

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