President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney collided head on in the Presidential Debate at Hofstra University in a historic and rancorous face off. The president won this debate, but Romney showed that his performance in Denver was not a fluke.
Results of a CBS News "snap poll" of uncommitted voters had 37% calling President Obama the winner, while 30% gave the nod to Romney. A CNN poll gave Obama the win 46% to 39%.
Both candidates were in full attack mode, each delivering direct verbal blows on their opponent. The president did not shrink from the fight, and neither did Romney, who at times came off as bullying the moderator and the president. There were several raw and emotional exchanges in response to questions asked by undecided voters chosen for the town hall debate.
Romney was strongest on the economy, touting his own five-point plan while calling the president's term a failure. "The president's policies have been exercised over the last four years, and they haven't put people back to work." But the president retorted, "He doesn't have a five-point plan, he has a one-point plan, and that's to make sure people at the top play by different rules...The last thing we need to do is go back to the same policies that got us there," into a recession.
Romney spoke of his proposal to lower taxes, "I'm going to bring rates down across the board...I'm not going to have people at the high end paying less than they pay now...I will not under any circumstances increase taxes on the middle class." But the president criticized his opponent for not specifying how he would pay for the $5 trillion tax cut. Speaking directly to Romney, he said, "You wouldn't have taken such a sketchy deal, and neither should the American people, because the math doesn't add up."
The president scored points on immigration, reminding viewers that Romney believed in "self-deportation." He also scored points on equal pay for women when he pointed out that the first thing he did as president was to sign the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act for women. This also gave the president a chance to remind viewers that Romney would defund Planned Parenthood, an all important issue for many women.
One questioner asked about what happened at the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, Libya, where 4 Americans were killed in a terrorist attack. The former governor criticized the president's foreign policy in the region, and the White House's evolving explanation of the incident. But Romney mistakenly claimed the president did not call it "an act of terrorism" in the White House Rose Garden the next day, an inaccurate right wing blog claim. But moderator Candy Crowley, of CNN, embarrassingly corrected Romney.
Romney' returned again and again to the president's failures in his first term. For his part, the president listed his successes, including saving the auto industry, adding more than 5 million private sector jobs, health care, ending the war in Iraq and decimating Al Qaeda.
Romney kept coming back to the economy, always speaking confidently about his ability to fix it if he is elected president. He reminded viewers he was a successful businessman who knows how to create jobs. In his summation, at the end of the debate, he said, "I care about 100% of the American people. I want 100% of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future. I care about our kids."
President Obama didn't miss this opportunity to remind viewers that the former governor once told donors at a Florida fundraiser that 47% of Americans do not pay taxes and are not personally responsible. "Think about who he was talking about: folks on Social Security who've worked all their lives, veterans who've sacrificed for this country," the president said, "That wasn't a handout, that was something that advanced the entire country, and I want to make sure that the next generation has those same opportunities. That's why I'm asking for your vote and that's why I'm asking for another four years."
Now the campaigns can look ahead to next week's final debate in Florida. After the Hofstra debate it is clear that this tightly contested election will be a fight to the finish.