President Barack Obama went some way towards redeeming his initial weak showing in the race for the White House when he turned the heat on challenger Mitt Romney at the second presidential debate in Hempstead, New York, on Tuesday evening. According to post-debate polls of uncommitted voters by, respectively, CBS and CNN, Mr. Obama won the debate.

A moment of profound drama emerged during the discussion when Mr. Romney stumbled on a question of fact regarding the Obama administration’s characterisation of the deadly attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012. While the former Massachusetts Governor insisted that Mr. Obama had not described it as an “act of terror” the day after the incident, debate moderator and CNN anchor Candy Crowley fact-checked him on the spot and Mr. Obama called for the transcript of his words that day.

However Mr. Obama also drew some flak from some commentators over his unwillingness to clearly explain who within his administration had denied the request from Benghazi-based State Department officials. When asked a question on this subject from one among the 80-odd audience members of the “town-hall” style debate, he focused instead on Mr. Romney “trying to make political points, and that's not how a commander in chief operates.”

The exchange notwithstanding, both men appeared to be on an even keel at points, and the tenor of the debate was strong and substantive. At several points the focus settled on the question of outsourcing American jobs and Mr. Obama pressed the case for boosting U.S. manufacturing on the basis that countries such as India, China and Germany were investing in such areas. Mr. Romney continued his earlier pattern of calling out “cheaters” in China, in the context of what he alleged was currency manipulation.

The top subject of the evening, however, was job creation, although other topics of discussion included questions of illegal immigration, clean energy, equal pay for women and deficit reduction. On jobs Mr. Romney’s consistently pressed the President on his record in office, emphasising that the unemployment rate was still at 7.8 per cent, with “23 million people struggling to find a job.” However regarding fair compensation for women, Mr. Romney appeared to avoid a clear recognition of the pay gap and post-poll reviews by various media suggested that that response was not popular.

Lighter moments were fewer and far between as both presidential candidates attempted to seize the momentum and at points they appeared almost trespass into each other’s personal space. A brief handshake after the debate was quickly disengaged as both men walked away to greet their spouses and families.

At one point Mr. Romney, who was clearly batting on the front foot early in the debate said to Mr. Obama, “You’ll get your chance in a moment,” when the President tried to interject. Mr. Obama had his own chance to hit back at another point, when Mr. Romney, in an attempt to link Mr. Obama to investments in China, asked him if he had looked at his pension. “I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours so it doesn't take as long,” he retorted.

The third and final debate, to be held in Boca Raton, Florida, on October 22, will focus entirely on foreign policy issues.

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