Fired-up Barack Obama takes offensive in crucial debate with Mitt Romney

 

Hempstead, New York

The Barack Obama that his supporters thought they always knew – the certain and sometimes soaring candidate of 2008 – made a dramatic reappearance at the second debate here last night, aggressively countering his opponent Mitt Romney on topics from taxation to foreign policy and reigniting his campaign for a second term.

In contrast to the first debate in Denver two weeks ago which saw a flatfooted Mr Obama almost overrun by his rival, last night’s town-hall style debate in Hempstead on Long Island was threaded with high drama as the President embraced the fight and stood for nothing from his foe.  Energy policy, outsourcing of jobs, relations with China, the recent events in Libya and immigration all came up and all provoked fireworks.

While the invited audience of 82 undecided voters pitched questions and waited for answers, they saw two men who were testy verging on mutually disdainful.  The high energy reflected the high stakes with the one determined to protect his new momentum and the other under intense pressure to reclaim it. In an exchange on energy policy early on, Mr Romney scolded the President for interrupting. “You will get your chance. I am still speaking,” he said.

Mr Romney saw the Obama train coming and did what he could to buckle tracks.  Most effective perhaps were his efforts to turn the night into a referendum on the President’s record of the past four years, ticking off promises that hadn’t been kept and goals that had not been met. “The middle class has been crushed over the last four years,” he said, citing the 23 million Americans who still don’t have jobs and his failure to introduce immigration reform.

But Mr Obama fired off one rapier shot after another.  Near the end, he finally did what so many of his supporters had been begging for, recalling the time behind closed doors his opponent disparaged the 47 per cent of Americans who get government support and don’t pay income tax.  “Think who he was talking about,” the President implored, noting that that the group includes students, soldier and veterans.  “If they succeed I believe this country succeeds.”

And he assailed the Republican for offering a blueprint of tax cuts that, he said, offered no clue as to how they would be paid for.  “If somebody came to you, governor, with a plan that said, ‘Here, I want to spend seven or eight trillion dollars, and we're going to pay for it, but we can’t tell you until maybe after the election how we’re going to do it,’ you wouldn’t have taken such a sketchy deal, and neither should you, the American people,” he said.

The tension was no more palpable than when Mr Romney insisted that the President had failed when he spoke in the Rose Garden after the Benghazi attacks that killed the US ambassador to Libya and three other Americans to characterise it as a terror attack. Mr Obama said he had. His eyes blazing, Mr Romney clearly thought he had the President trapped until the moderator, Candy Crowley of CNN, corrected him. That triggered a small rare ripple of applause in the audience, forbidden by the rules. Mr Romney thus mangled his mission to make Libya an Achilles heel for Mr Obama on foreign policy, a fumble likely to infuriate his own supporters.

An instant CNN viewers’ poll showed 46 per cent giving the night to Mr Obama and 39 for Mr Romney. That is not overwhelming but if that is the perception that holds into today, the contours of this topsy-turvy contest may be reset again, and not a moment too soon for the incumbent who saw his advantage nationally and in the battleground erased post-Denver.

“I think that narrative is going to be entirely different tomorrow,” top Obama strategist Robert Gibbs said of the now neck-and-neck race after the end of the debate here on the campus of Hofstra University.  Congratulating his boss, he added: “I wouldn’t change any of his answers tonight.”  By contrast, Mr Romney had looked “rattled”.

There was a shot of electricity through the debate hall when Mr Romney responded to allegations during a discussion of policy towards China that some of his own personal fortune was invested in Chinese companies, some engaged in making equipment for surveillance on its own policy. Striding over to Mr Obama he suggested that if he were to look at his own pension plan he would surely find some of that money invested in Chinese interests.   But the President shut him down. “I don’t look at my pension, it’s not as big as yours.”

Eric Fehrnstrom, top campaign advisor to Governor Romney, conceded it was a different Mr Obama on the stage, but said that didn’t change the record of the past four years. “The President was more strident, there is no question about that, but you cannot defend the indefensible,” he said. “Changing your style or changing your tone can’t change the facts of your record.  I think that Governor Romney put it very well when he recited the list of horribles” of the Obama term, notably on the economy and joblessness.

If Mr Romney’s goal last night was to indict his opponent’s record in office, that of Mr Obama was to portray Mr Romney as unreliable and dishonest about his positions, saying he had deliberately fudged or recast them on issues ranging from immigration to providing contraception services to women and even his supposed embrace of coal as an energy source. 

And he accused him of withholding details of what he would actually do once in office including on the economy.

“Governor Romney says he’s got a five-point plan,” the president declared.  “Governor Romney doesn't have a five-point plan. He has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules”.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Sport
New Real Madrid signing James Rodríguez with club president Florentino Perez
transfersColombian World Cup star completes £63m move to Spain
Arts and Entertainment
Stir crazy: Noel Fielding in 'Luxury Comedy 2: Tales from Painted Hawaii'
comedyAs ‘Luxury Comedy’ returns, Noel Fielding on why mainstream success scares him and what the future holds for 'The Boosh'
Life and Style
Flow chart: Karl Landsteiner discovered blood types in 1900, yet scientists have still not come up with an explanation for their existence
lifeAll of us have one. Yet even now, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Arts and Entertainment
'Weird Al' Yankovic, or Alfred Matthew, at the 2014 Los Angeles Film Festival Screening of
musicHis latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do our experts think he’s missed out?
Travel
Hotel Tour d’Auvergne in Paris launches pay-what-you-want
travelIt seems fraught with financial risk, but the policy has its benefits
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe best children's books for this summer
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Teaching Assistant

£12024: Randstad Education Leeds: Teaching Assistant September 2014 start - te...

Physics Teacher

£130 - £162 per day + UPS: Randstad Education Hull: Physics Teacher Long Term ...

IT Technician (1st/2nd line support) - Leatherhead, Surrey

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Technician (1st/2nd line support)...

Primary Teacher EYFS, KS1 and KS2

£85 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education are urgentl...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn