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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.

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Romney jumped on Obama’s claim that he stood in the Rose Garden the day after the attack and called it “an act of terror,” saying that, in fact, Obama had waited 14 days before he used that description.

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The two candidates sparred briefly – as they did several times during the debate in direct confrontations – with Obama telling Romney at one point to “get the transcript,” before Crowley finally stepped in, saying, “He did, in fact, sir.”

“Can you say that a little louder, Candy?” Obama immediately asked, as some in the audience applauded.

It was one of the more indelible moments of a debate that overall saw strong performances by both candidates, and is likely to be replayed often in the coming days.

It also is likely to be among the most questioned, particularly by Republicans citing media (and moderator) bias. Even Crowley, speaking on CNN after the debate, admitted that Romney “was right in the main” in how he characterized Obama’s depictions of the Benghazi attacks, but “just picked the wrong word.” (In the Rose Garden address, Obama did refer to “acts of terror,” but only in general terms.)

For Romney, though, who surely entered the debate hoping to hammer Obama on Libya, it was ultimately a lost opportunity. What most viewers are likely to take away is that Romney was called out, and appeared to lose.

The two candidates, who seemed to exhibit a strong dislike of each other on stage, engaged in a number of confrontations throughout the night, frequently posing questions to each other (something else supposedly prohibited in the debate guidelines) and occasionally entering personal space. 

At one point, Romney repeatedly asked Obama, “Have you looked at your pension?,” as he implied that Obama also had investments outside the United States. Finally Obama replied, tersely, “I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours, so it doesn't take as long.”

Obama surprised many viewers in Denver by refraining from mentioning Romney’s infamous “47 percent” comment, in which Romney seemed in private remarks to dismiss nearly half the population who don’t pay federal income taxes.

On Long Island, it at first seemed that the president was going to refrain again from bringing them up – and in fact, Romney used his final question to offer a tacit rebuttal of his remarks, telling the audience that, “I care about 100 percent of the American people.”

But then Obama, who was awarded the last word, used his final answer to hammer Romney hard on those remarks, reminding viewers that Romney “said behind closed doors that 47 percent of this country consider themselves victims.”

“Think about who he was talking about,” he urged his audience.

It was a strong close for the president, though in the end, Americans viewing this debate are likely to be split along far more partisan lines in whom they consider the winner than they were two weeks ago.

Most snap polls conducted by news organizations after the debate seemed to give the victory to Obama, though those polls can have a high degree of error, and the effects are usually sorted out in the coming days.


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