President Obama and Mitt Romney attacked each other from the start in Tuesday night’s second presidential debate, quickly interrupting one another and engaging in a dramatic stare-down.
Twenty minutes into the debate, the two men were in each other's faces, pointing fingers and talking over each other and moderator Candy Crowley of CNN.
Obama, who was criticized for a lackluster performance in the first debate, seemed energized at the start, skipping the formalities of thanking Romney, Crowley and New York's Hofstra University for hosting the town-hall debate in favor of attacking Romney over his opposition to the auto bailout.
“I want to build manufacturing jobs in this country again,” Obama said. “Gov. Romney said we should let Detroit go bankrupt; I said we’re going to bet on an American auto industry, and it’s come surging back.”
Romney shot back, saying the president merely followed his own model of sending the companies through a restructuring.
“That’s right, my plan was to have the company go through bankruptcy ... and come back stronger,” Romney said, turning to Obama. “I know he keeps saying, you want to take Detroit bankrupt. Well, 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. And I think it’s important to know that’s a process that’s important to get those companies back on their feet.”
Obama, whose aides said he would be “firm but respectful” in dealing with Romney after a flat and listless first debate, didn’t mince words in his response.
“What Gov. Romney said just isn’t true,” Obama said. “He wanted to take them into bankruptcy without providing them any way to stay open. We would have lost 1 million jobs. Don’t take my word for it, take the executives at GM and Chrysler, some of whom are Republicans and may even support Gov. Romney. But they’ll tell you his plan wouldn’t work.”
But their most contentious moment was during a back-and-forth on energy issues. At that point, both men were out of their seats and standing a few feet apart to argue about drilling permits.
Romney: "How much did you cut licenses and permits on federal land and federal waters?"
Obama: "Gov. Romney, here's what we did. There were a whole bunch of oil companies ..."
Romney: "No, no, I had a question, and the question was how much did you cut them by?"
Obama: "You want me to answer a question —"
Romney: "How much did you cut them by?"
Obama: "I'm happy to answer the question."
Perhaps the debate’s tensest moment came after Romney accused the Obama campaign of politicizing the deaths of those killed in the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
“A few days later I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force base and grieving with the families,” Obama said, visibly irritated and turning to address Romney directly. “The idea that anybody on my team, the Secretary of State, the U.N. ambassador, would play politics or mislead when we lost four of our own is offensive ... that’s not what I do as president, that’s not what I do as commander in chief.”
Romney continued to press Obama over the timing of when he labeled the assault as a terrorist attack, but Obama demurred and allowed Crowley to respond for him.
Throughout the evening, the two men clashed over the issues of energy, tax plans, contraception, equal women’s pay and free trade.
Obama hit his stride talking about fair pay, while some of Romney's best moments came when he said the president had tried hard over the last four years, but just wasn't up to the task.
“Let's look at the president's policies, all right, as opposed to the rhetoric, because we've had four years of policies being played out,” Romney said. “But what we don't need is to have the president keeping us from taking advantage of oil, coal and gas. This has not been Mr. Oil, or Mr. Gas or Mr. Coal. Talk to the people that are working in those industries. I was in coal country. People grabbed my arms and said, 'Please save my job.' "
Obama, meanwhile, rebuked Romney for claims that he would be tough on China’s currency manipulation.
“Governor, you’re the last person who's going to get tough on China,” Obama said to Romney, referencing Bain Capital’s investments in countries that outsourced.
Romney seemed to stumble in addressing a question on fair pay for women. While the president could point to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first legislation he signed after taking office, Romney seemed to get lost in his answer about seeking out female applicants when filling positions under his governorship in Massachusetts.
Democrats pounced on Romney’s answer.
“Wow, could @MittRomney get more condescending in this answer about women's economic security?” Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith tweeted.
Polls showed Romney made gains among female voters after his strong debate performance in Denver. Both men are targeting that voting bloc and were expected to make overtures to women during this debate.
Romney and Obama continuously jockeyed to talk over one another, at one point standing closely and pointing during a conversation that started about immigration reform and finished with repeated questions from Romney asking Obama if he knew what was in his pension.
“You know, I don’t look at my pension. It's not as big as yours, so it doesn’t take as long,” Obama said.
Obama also slammed Romney for not being specific about his tax plan, making the argument personal to Romney’s experience running the private equity firm he founded.
“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.”
The Obama campaign has focused on Romney’s tax plan since the GOP challenger forcefully defended it at the first debate. Romney said he had a history of balancing budgets that proves he’s better equipped to handle the budget.
“Well of course they add up,” Romney said. “I was someone who ran businesses for 25 years, and balanced the budget. I ran the Olympics and balanced the budget. I ran the state of Massachusetts as a governor, to the extent any governor does, and balanced the budget all four years. 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. We have a president talking about someone's plan in a way that's completely foreign to what my real plan is.”
Several times during the debate, the two men argued over the debate rules.
"I think that last answer was mine," Romney said at one point.
"I don't think so," Obama retorted.
Crowley tried to get them back on track, and Obama noted, "I want to make sure the time keepers are working here."
She assured him they were and directed Romney to answer the voter's question.
Obama and Romney didn't just speak over Crowley, they also spoke over each other's answers, often muttering "that's not true."
Both men were under pressure heading into their second showdown: Obama to make up for his disappointing performance in their first meeting and Romney to counter a more aggressive president who was seen as the underdog going into the debate.
Romney, like he did in the first debate to good effect, tried to take control of the debate from Crowley. But this time it resulted in Romney and Crowley talking over one another and arguing over the rules of the debate.
Obama also seemed more aware that he was being monitored on a split screen and stayed alert and attentive as Romney spoke.
After the contentious 90 minutes, the debate seemed ready to end on a light touch, with a question from an audience member giving the candidates an opportunity to debunk a misperception that has taken hold about them personally.
But Romney seemed as agitated as he had been during the entire debate and blamed the Obama campaign for mischaracterizations of how people view him.
“Thank you, and that’s an opportunity for me and I appreciate it,” Romney said. “In the nature of a campaign, some campaigns are focused on attacking a person rather than prescribing their own future and what they’d like to do. In the course of that I think the president’s campaign has characterized me as someone who is very different than what I would like to do. I care about 100 percent of the American people. I want 100 percent of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future.”
Obama said the GOP nominee had led people to think he believed the government was the primary engine of job growth.
“I believe Gov. Romney is a good man ... But I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considers themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about.”
Democrats and been longing for Obama to reprise Romney’s infamous “47 percent" remark, and he finally got to it in his closing argument.
— This story was originally posted at 9:29 p.m. and last updated at 10:46 p.m.