Obama, Romney Spar in Contentious Town Hall Debate - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Obama, Romney Spar in Contentious Town Hall Debate

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President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shake hands at the end of the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. (Photo: AP) President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney shake hands at the end of the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012. (Photo: AP)

WASHINGTON (AP)- Facing off for the second time in the 2012 election, President Obama and Mitt Romney went head-to-head Tuesday in a spirited, wide-ranging presidential debate over which candidate would best serve the country as president -- with Mr. Obama going after Romney for what he cast as his "sketchy" economic proposals, and Romney casting Mr. Obama's presidential record as an exercise in failed promises and empty rhetoric.  

Mr. Obama, whose performance in the first debate was panned as listless and dispassionate, was aggressive with his attacks right out of the gate, immediately targeting his rival for 2008 comments he made opposing the auto bailout, and for having what he called a "one-point plan" for the country: "To make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules."

"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: You can make a lot of money and pay lower tax rates than somebody who makes a lot less; you can ship jobs overseas and get tax breaks for it; you can invest in a company, bankrupt it, lay off the workers, strip away their pensions, and you still make money," Mr. Obama argued. "That's exactly the philosophy that we've seen in place for the last decade. That's what's been squeezing middle class families."

The president also reiterated the critique -- cited by Democrats as well as a number of independent tax policy groups -- that the numbers don't add up in Romney's tax proposal.

Calculating what he says are the costs of implementing Romney's various proposals at $8 trillion, Mr. Obama argued that Romney hasn't been able to explain "how are you going to do it, which deductions, which loopholes are you going to close? He can't tell you."

"We haven't heard from the governor any specifics beyond Big Bird and eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood in terms of how he pays for that," Mr. Obama said. "Governor Romney was a very successful investor. If somebody came to you, Governor, with a plan that said, here, I want to spend $7 or $8 trillion, and then 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 take such a sketchy deal and neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn't add up." 

Romney defended his tax proposal, arguing that he will not "under any circumstances, reduce the share that's being paid by the highest income taxpayers," and that his proposal, unlike the president's, will stimulate the economy and create jobs. 

"And I will not, under any circumstances increase taxes on the middle-class. The president's spending, the president's borrowing will cost this nation to have to raise taxes on the American people," he added. "I want to get us on track to a balanced budget, and I'm going to reduce the tax burden on middle income families. And what's that going to do? It's going to help those families, and it's going to create incentives to start growing jobs again in this country."

He said that "of course" the numbers add up, but did not provide further information regarding the details of his proposal, pivoting instead to an attack of Mr. Obama's record.

"When we're talking about math that doesn't add up, how about $4 trillion of deficits over the last four years, $5 trillion? That's math that doesn't add up," he said. "And then we have his own record, which is we have four consecutive years where he said when he was running for office, he would cut the deficit in half. Instead he's doubled it. We've gone from $10 trillion of national debt, to $16 trillion of national debt. If the president were reelected, we'd go to almost $20 trillion of national debt. This puts us on a road to Greece."

Romney and Mr. Obama also went back-and-forth on pay equity for women, during which Romney cited calling for "whole binders full of women" when searching for qualified women to interview during his tenure as governor.  

On immigration, Romney blasted the president for not having made good on his 2008 campaign promise to implement reform, and said he would implement a way to give green cards to "people who graduate with skills that we need," as well as "put in place an employment verification system and make sure that employers that hire people who have come here illegally are sanctioned for doing so."

"When the president ran for office, he said that he'd put in place, in his first year, a piece of legislation -- he'd file a bill in his first year that would reform our -- our immigration system, protect legal immigration, stop illegal immigration. He didn't do it," Romney said. "He had a Democrat House, a Democrat Senate, super majority in both Houses. Why did he fail to even promote legislation that would have provided an answer for those that want to come legally and for those that are here illegally today?"  

Mr. Obama repeatedly targeted Romney for having suggested in the past that imposing a policy of "self-deportation" would serve as an effective way to reduce illegal immigration, and for tapping as an adviser the man who designed the controversial Arizona immigration legislation. He also touted his own efforts to make sure that those undocumented immigrants who are targeted for immigration are "criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community," and not "folks who are here just because they're trying to figure out how to feed their families."  

"[Romney's] main strategy during the Republican primary was to say, 'We're going to encourage self-deportation.' Making life so miserable on folks that they'll leave," Mr. Obama said. "He called the Arizona law a model for the nation. Part of the Arizona law said that law enforcement officers could stop folks because they suspected maybe they looked like they might be undocumented workers and check their papers." 

Turning to the recent violence in Libya, Romney questioned the White House response to the tragedy, suggesting there may have been "some misleading" involved.

"There were many days that passed before we knew whether this was a spontaneous demonstration, or actually whether it was a terrorist attack," Romney said. "And there was no demonstration involved. It was a terrorist attack and it took a long time for that to be told to the American people. Whether there was some misleading, or instead whether we just didn't know what happened, you have to ask yourself why didn't we know five days later when the ambassador to the United Nations went on TV to say that this was a demonstration. How could we have not known?"

The president aggressively disputed that assessment, arguing that he "stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people in the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we're going to hunt down those who committed this crime."

The day after the attacks in Libya, Mr. Obama did refer to "acts of terror," though he didn't specifically call the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi an act of terrorism.

"No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for," Mr. Obama said at the time. "Today we mourn four more Americans who represent the very best of the United States of America. We will not waver in our commitment to see that justice is done for this terrible act. And make no mistake, justice will be done."

The administration, including U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice, did maintain for several days that the attack was spontaneous and the result of protests over an inflammatory anti-Muslim video.

"I think interesting the president just said something which -- which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror," Romney said.

"That's what I said," Mr. Obama replied.

Romney continued to dispute his characterization, ultimately leading moderator Candy Crowley to step in.

"He did call it an act of terror," Crowley said, noting too that "it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea there being a riot out there about this tape to come out."

In his closing remarks, Mr. Obama recalled Romney's controversial remarks about the "47 percent" of Americans he said were "dependent" on government and saw themselves as "victims" -- a comment he did not mention in the first debate, much to the chagrin of Democrats.

"I believe Governor Romney is a good man. Loves his family, cares about his faith. But I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about," Mr. Obama said. "Folks on Social Security who've worked all their lives. Veterans who've sacrificed for this country. Students who are out there trying to hopefully advance their own dreams, but also this country's dreams. Soldiers who are overseas fighting for us right now. People who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas taxes, but don't make enough income. And I want to fight for them. That's what I've been doing for the last four years. Because if they succeed, I believe the country succeeds."

Romney, meanwhile, argued that the Obama campaign "has tried to characterize me as -- as someone who's very different than who I am."

"I care about 100 percent of the American people. I want 100 percent of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future. I care about our kids. I understand what it takes to make a bright and prosperous future for America again," he said. "I spent my life in the private sector, not in government. I'm a guy who wants to help with the experience I have, the American people...I understand that I can get this country on track again." 

The debate has been touted as a high-stakes affair for both candidates: Mr. Obama was tasked with making up ground lost after the first debate, while Romney was under pressure to hold on to a recent wave of momentum.

In the 13 days since the two men last faced off, Romney has seen a much-needed boost in the polls, changing the dynamic in a race that had previously looked all but over for the former Massachusetts governor.

Now, amid a panoply of polls showing a wide range of often disparate results, the main -- and possibly only -- clear consensus is that the race is very close. 

In an instant poll taken immediately following the debate, Mr. Obama edged Mitt Romney out for a win in the night's event, with 37 percent of 525 uncommitted voters tapping his performance as superior to that of the former Massachusetts governor. The same poll showed 30 percent awarding the victory to Romney, while 33 percent called it a tie.  

As for who would do a better job of handling the economy, the president made some headway on closing that gap, according to the poll. Before the debate, 71 percent said they believed Romney would, while only 27 percent said they thought Obama would; after the debate, 34 percent said the president would better handle the economy, with 65 percent saying Romney would. Fifty-six percent of voters also said Mr. Obama would also be more likely to help the middle class, while 43 percent said the same of Romney.

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