* Obama and Romney clash over Libya killings
* Candidates circle, confront each other on stage
* Polls show race deadlocked with three weeks left
By John Whitesides and Samuel P. Jacobs
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y., Oct 16 U.S. President Barack
Obama launched aggressive attacks against Republican rival Mitt
Romney on jobs, energy and Libya in their second debate on
Tuesday as the Democrat tried to reclaim the momentum in a tight
White House race.
Obama was much sharper and more energetic than in their
opening d ebate two weeks ago, when his listless performance was
heavily criticized and gave Romney's campaign a much-needed
boost in the run-up to the Nov. 6 election.
The president scolded Romney for accusing him of trying to
take political advantage of the attack by Islamist militants in
Libya last month that killed four Americans, including the U.S.
Ambassador Chris Stevens.
"That's not what we do. That's not what I do as president,
that's not what I do as commander in chief," Obama said during
the debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, calling
the accusation "offensive."
"I'm the president and I'm always responsible, and that's
why nobody's more interested in finding out exactly what
happened," Obama said.
Romney questioned Obama's claim that he called the Benghazi
attack "an act of terror" in the White House Rose Garden the day
afterward, but moderator Candy Crowley of CNN corrected the
Republican. Transcripts show Obama did use the term that day.
The Republican accused Obama of failing to follow through on
the promises of his 2008 campaign.
In one of his stronger moments in the 90-minute debate,
Romney took aim at Obama's economic record in office, saying it
has led to 15 million more people on food stamps, slow growth
and a lack of jobs.
"The middle class is getting crushed under the policies of a
president who has not understood what it takes to get the
economy working again. He keeps saying, 'Look, I've created 5
million jobs.' That's after losing 5 million jobs. The entire
record is such that the unemployment has not been reduced in
this country," the former Massachusetts governor said.
Polls showed voters judged Obama the winner. A CNN survey
gave him the edge by 46 percent to 39 percent, while CBS had
Obama the winner by 37 percent to 30 percent.
"I think Obama won this one. I'll say I'm a Romney
supporter, but I don't think he effectively got all his points,"
said audience member James Digirolamo, from Long Island, New
"I was a little disappointed how the moderator handled the
debate, in particular the issue with the 'terror' remark," he
said, referring to criticism by Republicans that moderator
Crowley intervened in favor of Obama during the exchange over
Both candidates roamed the stage to talk directly to
participants in the town-hall format, where undecided voters
from Long Island asked the questions.
At times the two men circled each other warily at center
stage like prize fighters, talking over each other and bickering
frequently about the rules and who had exceeded their time.
Romney confronted Obama face-to-face at one point to ask
repeatedly if licenses and permits for energy drilling on
federal land had been reduced during his administration.
Recent polls have put the race for the White House at a
virtual dead heat just three weeks ahead of the election.
Obama seems to have stopped his slide after the last debate.
In a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll on Tuesday, he gained a
bit more ground on Romney for the third straight day and led 46
percent to 43 percent.
But a Gallup/USA Today survey showed Romney ahead by 4
percentage points in the 12 most contested states.
After being slammed for his passive performance in the first
debate, Obama attacked Romney repeatedly this time.
He resurrected his charge that the economic proposals put
forward by the former private equity executive were designed to
protect and bolster the wealthy at the expense of the middle
"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.
Romney said Obama's economic record speaks for itself.
"The president has tried, but his policies haven't worked.
He's great as a speaker and at describing his plans and his
vision. That's wonderful, except we have a record to look at and
that record shows that he just hasn't been able to cut the
deficit, to put in place reforms for Medicare and Social
Security to p r eserve them, to get us the rising incomes we
Arguing that he supports equal opportunities for women,
Romney said he once had "binders full of women" candidates for
cabinet jobs when he was Massachusetts governor. The quote
suggested that influential women were not part of Romney's
circle and prompted a flurry of comments on social media.
The two also clashed over the Obama administration's 2009
auto bailout, with Romney saying Obama had misrepresented his
position that General Motors should go into a managed
"He keeps saying, you want to take Detroit bankrupt. Well,
the president took Detroit bankrupt," Romney said. "You took
General Motors bankrupt. You took Chrysler bankrupt. So when you
say that I wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt, you
Obama responded: "What Governor Romney said just isn't true.
He wanted to take them into bankruptcy without providing them
any way to stay open. And we would have lost a million jobs."
The pair meet again next week in Boca Raton, Florida for
their final debate, which will be on foreign policy.