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President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney (right) exchange words during the second Presidential Debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.
Mount Vernon, Iowa: US President Barack Obama swung straight back onto the campaign trail yesterday after out-manoeuvering his White House rival Mitt Romney in a comeback debate and re-energising his faltering re-election bid.
Most observers, backed by anecdotal instant polls, gave Obama victory in yesterday’s second election showdown between the pair. But both candidates were determined to maintain their momentum with less than three weeks until polling day.
An assertive Obama was barely off stage before he took his campaign circus out to Iowa, the swing state where he launched his extraordinary rise to power in the 2008 Democratic primary, and which both men hope to win on November 6.
Romney, the Republican nominee, headed south for two campaign rallies in Virginia, a key battleground that looked to be leaning towards Obama until the first debate on October 3, which the incumbent lost badly.
Meanwhile, the political class was still digesting the repercussions of the latest bitterly contested head-to-head, a so-called “town hall” with questions from members of the public.
Neither man did much to conceal their mutual dislike as they stalked the stage, sometimes just a yard from each other as they traded accusations of dishonesty. Both landed blows but, after his poor earlier showing, a resurgent Obama carried the day.
Conservative commentator George Will, a longtime presidential observer, said Obama came out ahead in one of the most spirited US debates ever. Both men “tip-toed right up to the point of rudeness, but stepped back. It was a very good fight,” Will told ABC News. “I have seen every presidential debate in American history since the floor of Nixon and Kennedy in 1960. This was immeasurably the best.”
Bouncing back after being pilloried in Denver, Obama was a different character on stage at New York’s Hofstra University. In one spellbinding exchange, Obama glared at Romney and rebuked him over his criticism of the White House’s handling of an attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, which killed four Americans.
“The suggestion that 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.
“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 the most memorable clash of one of the most ill-tempered and contentious White House debates ever.
Seeking to recover, Romney instead stumbled, accusing the president of taking days to recognize that the attack, which killed US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, was terrorism and not a protest that got out of hand.
Obama snapped back that he had referred to the assault as an “act of terror” a day after the attack, telling Romney: “check the transcript” before fixing his rival with a withering stare and saying: “Please proceed governor.”
As anger crackled in the debate hall, the candidates were freed from podiums and roamed the floor, often encroaching on each other’s personal space, trading charge and counter-charge over the economy and foreign policy.
Romney’s strongest moments came when he delivered stinging indictments of the Obama economy, charging the president with failing to rein in stubbornly high unemployment or cut ballooning deficits. “The president wants to do well, I understand,” Romney said, adopting a sorrowful tone of voice. “But the policies he put in place have not let this economy take off as it could have.
“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 its alleged trade and currency abuses.
Obama countered that Romney had invested in companies in China that were pioneers of outsourcing US jobs, saying: “Governor, you’re the last person who’s going to get tough on China.”
Just 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.