A bristling Barack Obama went on a relentless attack in the second presidential debate, but his rival Mitt Romney gave no ground as the two men clashed repeatedly during angry and at times electric exchanges on Tuesday night.
Clearly arriving with a different game plan after his lacklustre performance in Denver two weeks ago, Obama assailed Romney on his tax rate, his tax plan, his stance on the auto bailout, women’s rights and his plans to stand up to China.
And this time he didn’t shy away from personal assaults on Romney’s wealth, his record at Bain Capital and those now infamous secretly recorded remarks on the ‘47 per cent’ – all of which he failed to mention the first time the pair clashed.
The pair bordered on being physically aggressive, coming toe-to-toe and looming over each other as they held their hands up at each other on the red-carpeted stage.
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Sit back down! Mitt Romney and Barack Obama clashed during the second presidential debate on Tuesday
Anger: Obama repeatedly accused Romney of twisting the truth and even telling lies
Meeting: Mitt Romney and Barack Obama during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York
Anger: Romney lost his temper at one point as he ordered the President not to interrupt him
THE CANDIDATES GET TOUGH
On the budget:
'Governor Romney’s allies in Congress have held the 98 per cent hostage because they want tax breaks for the top two per cent.'
On Romney's economic plan:
'Governor Romney says he's got a five point plan? Governor Romney doesn't have a five-point plan, he's got a one-point plan. To make sure that the folks at the top play by a separate set of rules.'
On Romney's investments in China:
'Governor, you are the last person who is going to get tough on China.'
On his pension:
'I don't look at my pension, it's not as big as yours, so it doesn’t take as long.'
On being commander in chief:
'I'm the one who has to greet those coffins when they come home.'
On being defended by the moderator:
'Can you say that a little louder, Candy?'
On his opponent:
'Thank you, Mr President, for being a part of this debate.'
On the deficit:
'I know what it takes to balance budgets. I've done it my entire life.'
'You get your chance in a moment, I'm still speaking.'
On Obama's response to the Libya attack:
'The President, the day after it happened, flies to Las Vegas for a political fundraiser.'
On the President's rhetoric:
'He's great as a speaker, and describing his plans and vision. That's wonderful, except we have a record to look at.'
Democrats – on the verge of panic – have had their nerves steadied after the debate at Hofstra University, Hempstead, New York.
Obama's in-your-face performance was a major improvement on his display in Denver, and viewers rated him the winner by a seven-point margin in a CNN poll.
But Romney scored a number of points, especially on the economy, and in the CNN poll only 38 per cent felt Obama had a clear plan for the country while 50 per cent thought Romney had one.
Obama’s much better showing might not be enough to halt his slide in the national polls, which has seen Romney gain around five points nationally and take a narrow but clear lead.
Romney was also ahead in key state Florida, level in Virginia and closing the margin in Ohio.
LIAR, LIAR? BRUTAL ATTACKS FROM BOTH SIDES
Obama immediately showed far more pizzazz than he had done in the first debate, repeatedly claiming that his opponent was twisting the truth. ‘Very little of what Governor Romney just said was true,’ he said.
The two repeatedly talked over each other and tried to interrupt one another - at one point, Romney even snapped, 'You get your chance in a moment, I'm still speaking,' when Obama tried to intervene and stand up from his seat.
With Obama forced to sit again, the remarkable exchange provoked gasps from the audience, who also laughed during the more passionate clashes between the candidates.
‘Governor Romney says he's got a five-point plan? Governor Romney doesn't have a five-point plan, he's got a one-point plan,’ Obama said at one point. ‘To make sure that the folks at the top play by a separate set of rules.’
But Romney, who was declared the overwhelming winner in Denver, was determined not to cede any point, interrupting Obama and even arguing with moderator Candy Crowley about the debate rules.
Obama took a strong, even sarcastic, line against his opponent, saying, 'What Governor Romney said just isn't true' when the GOP challenger defended his comments on the auto industry bailout.
He also said it was 'offensive' of Romney to suggest that the administration's response to last month's Libya consulate attack was politically motivated.
Obama painted Romney as 'extreme' on social issues such as abortion, and warned that his election would mean a return to Bush-era economic policies – something the former Massachusetts governor strenuously rebutted.
Romney turned his ire on moderator Candy Crowley when she attempted to wrap up one of his answers. Romney claimed that she was bending the rules and that he had a right to answer in his own time.
Pointing fingers: The two candidates had repeated attacks on each others' records and rhetoric
Aggression: Romney had harsh words for the incumbent all nightENERGY POLICY - CANDIDATES IN VIOLENT CLASH OVER TOPIC
Obama boasted his energy policies had weaned the U.S. off its dependence on foreign oil, and claimed Romney would 'let the oil companies write the energy policies.'But the challenger countered, 'Let's look at the President's policies as opposed to the rhetoric, because we've had four years of policies being played out.'The issue brought out some of the bitterest exchanges of the night, as each candidate accused the other of dishonesty.And Obama even suggested that his rival would lower gas prices only by taking the economy to 'the verge of collapse'.ECONOMIC PLANS - WHO CAN BALANCE THE BUDGET?Obama accused Romney of being unable to detail his economic plans, saying the spending plan lacked 'any specifics beyond Big Bird and eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood’.But the Republican ridiculed this notion, saying: 'I know how to balance budgets - I've been doing it my whole life.' He also appeared insulted about a question from Crowley on what would happen if his budget plans 'didn't add up', insisting that this scenario was unthinkable.
Relief: The GOP candidate kisses his wife Ann on stage at the end of the evening's proceedings
Embrace: The First Couple hugged after the debate, with Mrs Obama dressed in hot pink
Going home: Obama boards Air Force One on his way back to the White House on Tuesday night
'WAR ON WOMEN' - WHICH CANDIDATE IS MORE FEMALE-FRIENDLY?
The two argued about how their policies would affect women - Obama talked about the Lilly Ledbetter act, which makes it easier for female workers to sue over discriminatory employment policies.
But Romney countered by referring to his record as governor, saying he had made great efforts to appoint female cabinet members and talking about 'binders full of women' which he used to ensure gender equality in government. The phrase ‘binders full of women’ quickly became a trending topic on Twitter.
He also pointed to 'flexible work schedules' as the key to keeping mothers in the workforce, and promised that his plans to boost the economy as a whole would help women return to work.
ANOTHER BUSH? ROMNEY DISTANCES HIMSELF FROM GOP PREDECESSOR
Romney was asked how he planned to distinguish himself from the last Republican President, George W. Bush, and pointed to his commitment to balance the budget and achieve energy independence for North America.
He also added, 'I will be tough on China' - but Obama, pointing to Romney's private-equity career, said he had invested in companies 'which are pioneers of outsourcing to China.'
The President also claimed his opponent would imitate Bush's economic policies, which he repeatedly claims were responsible for the economic crisis.
Interruptions: The pair would not stop talking over each other throughout the evening
Bad blood? The candidates did not seem particularly friendly as they shook hands at the end of the debate
Tough: Candy Crowley had to step in to calm Romney and Obama down at times
THE DISILLUSIONED VOTER - WHY SUPPORT OBAMA AGAIN?
One questioner said he had supported Obama in 2008, but found it hard to justify voting to re-elect the President. Obama insisted: 'The commitments I've made, I've kept. Those that I haven't been able to keep, it's not for lack of trying.'
But Romney countered: 'I think you know better. I think you know the last four years haven't been so good as the President described.
He added: 'The President has tried, but his policies haven't worked. He's great as a speaker, and describing his plans and vision. That's wonderful, except we have a record to look at.'
AN IMMIGRATION U-TURN? ROMNEY MOVES TO THE CENTRE
Romney has been moving to the centre ever since he secured the Republican nomination this spring, and he moderated the position on immigration that he had taken during the primaries.
He said that illegal immigrants who had entered the country as children 'should have a pathway to become a permanent resident', and slammed Obama for failing to propose legislation on immigration reform.
The President reminded the audience that they were 'just a few miles from Ellis Island', spiritual home of U.S. immigration, and attacked Romney for supporting 'self-deportation', in which immigrants choose to return home voluntarily.
PERSONAL WEALTH - ROMNEY ACCUSES OBAMA OF DODGY INVESTMENTS
The pair clashed over their respective investments, after Obama accused Romney of having ploughed money into Chinese companies and outsourcing jobs.
In a pre-planned attack, Romney claimed that Obama had also invested in Chinese firms and companies controlled from offshore tax havens.
He asked: ‘Mr Obama, have you looked at your pension?' There were laughs as Obama shot back: 'I don't look at my pension - it's not as big as yours.'
Introduction: The candidates wave at the audience in the town hall debate
Fight: The two candidates clashed angrily at the beginning of the evening
Hot seat: Moderator Candy Crowley talks to the audience before the second presidential debate at Hofstra University on Tuesday
THE ATTACK IN BENGHAZI - WHO WAS RESPONSIBLE?
Obama said he accepted responsibility for the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi which killed ambassador Chris Stevens and three others.
He angrily denied that there had been any sort of cover-up over the tragedy, saying: 'The suggestion that anyone on my team would play politics when we lost four of our own is offensive.' He added: ‘I'm the one who has to greet those coffins when they come home.'
Romney was dumfounded when Obama said that the day after the attack he had described it as an ‘act of terror’. Crowley inserted herself into the dispute saying that Obama had described Benghazi as an act of terror.
The transcript, however, made it unclear whether Obama was speaking generally or more specifically about Benghazi and the Romney campaign insisted afterwards that Obama and Crowley were flat wrong.
Responding to Crowley’s intervention, Obama said: 'Candy, could you say that a little louder?' That tense moment saw the audience burst into a round of applause - despite rules meant to restrict any displays of partisanship from the crowd.
JOB CREATION - CAN WE RELY ON GOVERNMENT?
Romney accused Obama of relying on government to reduce unemployment, and repeated: 'Government does not create jobs.'
But Obama denied this, saying, 'I believe in risk takers being rewarded... but I believe that everyone should have a fair shot.'
He also took the opportunity to go after Romney for his notorious comments describing 47 per cent of Americans as 'victims' who are dependent on government, arguing that it showed the candidate as out of touch with the U.S. public.
At cross purposes: Both candidates were trying to talk over each other as they refused to back down
Passion: Both sides showed more energy than in the first debate in Denver two weeks ago
Audience: Casino-goers in Sparks, Nevada watch the debate in the background as they gamble
Both sides claimed victory after the bitter clash. Romney's running mate Paul Ryan sent an email to supporters saying: 'Mitt crushed it again at tonight's debate.
'He showed America that on November 6th, there is a clear choice: four more years of what we already know hasn't worked, or a new path that leads to a real recovery.'
But Obama's campaign manager Jim Messina argued that the President 'clearly won tonight's debate'.
He continued: 'The American people saw their leader tonight - a strong, steady and decisive president with an affirmative vision to move this country forward and build the economy from the middle out, not the top down.'
Excited: Ann Romney sits down with her son in the debate audience
Ditto: Michelle Obama was wearing a similar shade of hot pink to Mrs Romney
Backstage: The Romney family waiting ahead of the second debate
Both candidates had rehearsed extensively for the 90-minute encounter at Hofstra University - unlike before their last meeting, when Obama was undercooked and low on energy.
'I had a bad night,' the President conceded days after he and his Republican opponent shared a stage for the first time.
His aides made it known he did not intend to be as deferential to his challenger this time, and the presidential party decamped for a resort in Williamsburg, Virginia for rehearsals that consumed the better part of three days.
Romney rehearsed in Massachusetts and again after arriving on Long Island on debate day.
'The first debate was huge and we've seen our numbers move all across the country,' his wife Ann said before joining her husband in New York.
Arrested: Green Party candidate Jill Stein, left, and her running mate Cheri Honkala, right, staged a sit-down protest outside Hofstra University on Tuesday evening
Protest: Stein has argued that she should be allowed to participate in the presidential debates
In a campaign which has been filled with controversy, even the evening's ground rules sparked disagreements.
Crowley said she expected to be following up at times on questions from the audience - despite a formal memorandum drafted by the two campaigns which said her role would be more limited.
The moderator's role has been controversial in the two election debates so far, with Jim Lehrer criticised for being overly passive in Denver and Martha Raddatz, host of last week's vice-presidential debate in Kentucky, accused of having inappropriate personal ties to Obama.
The questions were from about 80 undecided voters inside the hall in a deeply Democratic state. But the audience that mattered most watched on television and was set to reach tens of millions again.
Arrival: President Obama touches down at John F. Kennedy Airport in Air Force One
Ready for action: The GOP challenger shortly after his arrival on Long Island
Passion: Michelle Obama addressing a campaign rally in Chapel Hill, North Carolina on Tuesday
The drama started even before the beginning of the debate, as Green Party candidate Jill Stein and her running mate Cheri Honkala were arrested for trying to break in to the university.
The pair spent 20 minutes attempting to enter the hall, then staged a sit-down in the street and were led away by police because they were blocking traffic.
Stein and Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson have repeatedly protested over the fact that they have been barred from participating in the debates.
Last time: The two candidates during their first debate in Denver on October 4
Running mates: Joe Biden and Paul Ryan debated in Kentucky last Thursday night