U.S. President Barack Obama and his Republican Party challenger Mitt Romney have clashed over ways to spur economic growth and America’s policies in the Middle East.
The second debate between the two men was held just three weeks before Americans vote for president in the November 6 election.
Obama and Romney had several testy exchanges in the duel in Hempstead, New York, with each attempting to reveal the other as unfit for the White House.
Obama accepted responsibility for last month’s attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the ambassador to Libya, but accused Romney of trying to exploit the issue for political gain.
Romney offered fresh criticism of Obama’s economic policies, while Obama accused Romney of working for the interests of wealthy people and the oil industry.
Opinion polls ahead of the debate suggested a close race between the two candidates. Romney has surged in the polls after what was seen as a stronger performance than Obama in the first debate on October 3.
Obama went on the attack against Romney early in the October 16 debate, which was held in a “town hall”-style format, with the candidates taking questions from selected attendees.
Within the first 10 minutes Obama accused Romney, who made a fortune as a successful investor, of working for the interests of rich people and the oil industry.
“Governor Romney says he’s got a five-point plan? 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," Obama said. "That’s been his philosophy in the private sector; that’s been his philosophy as governor; that’s been his philosophy as a presidential candidate.”
Romney, a former Massachusetts state governor, had minutes earlier slammed Obama over America’s economic performance, saying fewer people were now employed than when Obama took office.
“The president’s policies have been exercised over the last four years and they haven’t put Americans back to work," Romney said. "We have fewer people working today than we had when the president took office.”
We have Iran four years closer to a nuclear bomb.
Later, Romney attempted to cast the deadly attack in Benghazi as a symbol of Obama’s foreign policy weakness, particularly in the Middle East.
“It was very clear this was not a demonstration. This was an attack by terrorists," Romney said. "And this calls into question the president’s whole policy in the Middle East. Look what’s happening in Syria, in Egypt, now in Libya. Consider the distance between ourselves and Israel, where the president said that -- that he was going to put daylight between us and Israel. We have Iran four years closer to a nuclear bomb.”
Obama responded by accusing Romney of exploiting the deaths of American diplomats to gain political advantage. Obama, however, said he was “ultimately responsible” for diplomatic security.
“And when it comes to this issue, when I say that we are going to find out exactly what happened, everybody will be held accountable, and I am ultimately responsible for what’s taking place there, because these are my folks, and I’m the one who has to greet those coffins when they come home, you know that I mean what I say," Obama said.
I think the president's performance was so dramatically different...that he's going to come out the winner.
Charles Mahtesian, national politics editor for "Politico," a Washington newspaper and website covering politics, said Obama was under "great pressure to deliver a more aggressive and energetic performance than in the first debate."
"And I think he met that challenge," Mahtesian told RFE/RL. "Democrats are going to be very pleased with his combativeness and his forceful attacks on Romney.”
Mahtesian said he doesn't believe there will be the same "universal consensus" on who won as occurred in the first debate in Denver on October 3.
"But in this case," he said, "I think the president’s performance was so dramatically different, and so much more engaged and energetic than in Denver, that he’s going to come out of this as the winner.”
He said, however, that he doesn't believe the president's performance will result in any dramatic change in opinion polls.
Foreign policy is scheduled to be the focus of the third and final debate on October 22.
With reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Heather Maher in Washington, with additional reporting by AP, Reuters, and AFP