Candidates Come Out Swinging - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Candidates Come Out Swinging

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President Barack Obama took the stage at Tuesday's presidential debate determined to play offense against Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, taking every opportunity to put his GOP challenger on his heels. 

It was clear from the second presidential debate's outset that it wouldn't resemble the first, when Romney was widely-acknowledged to have run circles around Obama, whom Democrats worried was not aggressive enough in responding to Romney's attacks. 

Obama and Romney went at each other early and often on topics ranging from the economy and taxes to energy to women's rights and to immigration.

The tension between the candidates was readily clear, as well – the two physically approached each other during one early exchange.

President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney spar on the issues in the second presidential debate.

The quarrelsome atmosphere pervaded the debate through its final moments, when Obama finally deployed an attack on Romney based on his surreptitiously-recorded comments in May dismissing the votes of "47 percent" of Americans, whom the Republican candidate said were "dependent" on government.

The president insinuated Romney's tax proposals were a "sketchy deal" for the American people, and sought to tie the GOP nominee to George W. Bush.

Obama's attacks extended into personal territory, too, as he frequently made reference to Romney's immense personal wealth to make the broader case about Romney and "top-down economics."

"No, I haven't looked at my pension," he said in one exchange with Romney, "It's not as big as yours, so it doesn't take that long."

Romney, in turn, emphasized Obama's own failings as president and again adopted the centrist tone he had projected in his first meeting with Obama. 

"Why am I lowering taxes on the middle-class? Because under the last four years, they've been buried," Romney said, alluding to a comment made recently by Vice President Joe Biden saying the middle class had been "buried" over the last four years. 

And Romney didn't hesitate to scold Obama, who walked toward Romney during one exchange over energy: "You'll get your chance in a moment, I'm still speaking."

The debate also featured Romney and Obama's first direct exchange on the topic of last month's terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, which left four Americans dead, including a U.S. ambassador.

The president pledges he will get to the bottom of the events that led to the death of a U.S. ambassador in Libya and calls Romney's criticisms of his actions following the attack "offensive."

Obama seemed to flash anger toward the former Massachusetts governor, as he turned and stared down Romney, calling the suggestion that his administration would play politics with the attack "offensive."

"That's not how a commander in chief operates. You don't turn national security into a political issue," Obama said of Romney's accusation, as details emerged about the attack, that the White House had expressed sympathy for the attackers besieging diplomatic posts in Egypt, Libya and beyond.

Romney argued that Obama had left the White House to go campaigning shortly after the attack, and accused the president of having failed to label the attack in Libya an act of terror.

When moderator Candy Crowley intervened and contended Obama had actually done so, members of the audience applauded – in violation of debate rules. 

The GOP hopeful sought to again shroud himself with a more centrist tone, a Romney had taken in the first debate. He eagerly seized an opportunity in response to one undecided voter about how he differed from Bush. 

GOP nominee Mitt Romney makes sure he gets to make his point even as debate moderator tries to move on.

"I'll crack down on China, President Bush didn't," Romney said in recitation of the instances in which he breaks from the last Republican president. "I'm going to get us to a balanced budget. President Bush didn't."

Romney also had a crisp response prepared to Obama's argument that Romney would have allowed the American auto industry to fail amid its 2008-09 crisis. The Obama campaign has made Romney's 2008 op-ed for The New York Times – "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" – to pummel the Republican throughout the industrial Midwest, where much of the election has played out. 

"The president took Detroit bankrupt. You took General Motors bankrupt. You took Chrysler bankrupt. So when you say that I wanted to take the auto industry bankrupt, you actually did," Romney charged. "And I think it's important to know that that was a process that was necessary to get those companies back on their feet, so they could start hiring more people. That was precisely what I recommended and ultimately what happened."

Obama sought often, though, to remind voters of what Romney had promised during his march to the Republican nomination – from his vow to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood to his opposition to an immigration reform package, the DREAM Act, to taxes.

President Barack Obama attacks former Gov. Mitt Romney's tax-cut proposals in the second presidential debate of 2012.

"When Gov. Romney stands here, after a year of campaigning, when during a Republican primary he stood on stage and said "I'm going to give tax cuts" - he didn't say tax rate cuts, he said 'tax cuts to everybody,' including the top 1 percent, you should believe him because that's been his history," Obama said.

The debate was the second of three presidential debates this fall; Obama and Romney will meet one more time between now and Nov. 6, a foreign policy-focused debate on Monday.

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