The second United States presidential election debate, held on October 16 between the incumbent Barack Obama and his challenger Mitt Romney at Hofstra University in New York State, was dramatically different from the first. Perhaps buoyed by running mate Joe Biden’s win in the vice-presidential encounter, President Obama was unrecognisably more assertive about his facts and his achievements. Governor Romney stopped trying to connect personally with the 82-member audience of undecided voters and gave his full attention to the tussle, which saw both men walking around, attacking and counterattacking as the tension rose palpably and the moderator repeatedly reminded them to address the questions. Predictably, Mr. Romney criticised the President’s economic record and plans, but that was because he was himself under fire, and he stretched the facts in the process. For example, Mr. Obama’s comment that Romney companies outsource jobs to China brought the reaction that the President’s own pension funds had investments in China — yet the point refers to Mr. Obama’s pension from his Illinois senatorship, and the incumbent drew laughter when he told the multimillionaire Mr. Romney, ‘My pension’s not as big as yours.’ Mr. Obama, for his part, had to work to answer an attack over the reduction in licences to exploit energy resources below federal land; his reply that the companies involved had to use the licences or lose them did not really register in the din.

The only foreign policy issue the candidates covered in detail was the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. The President did not really answer the question about who was responsible for not responding to the consulate’s request for more security. Mr. Obama, however, rose in stature with the comment that for him national security is not a party-political issue. Mr. Romney’s attack on the administration’s alleged inactivity over Iran — whether Iran is really a threat to the U.S. went unexamined — and his accusation that the President wanted to put daylight between the U.S. and Israel brought a sarcastic reaction from Mr. Obama that he had pulled the country out of Iraq, killed Osama bin Laden, and was leaving Afghanistan. But given voter anxiety about jobs, the focus was unsurprisingly on the economy. Mr. Obama deflected criticism of his economic record by stating that the challenger will not close the loopholes that help corporations make tax-free profits from offshoring or outsourcing. Mr. Romney will have startled his own team by saying he would raise federal grants for college study. While it is the President did not get as much political capital from this debate as Mr. Romney did from the first one, this election remains a close contest.

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