HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — An aggressive President Barack Obama accused challenger Mitt Romney of favoring a "one-point plan" to help the rich and leveling offensive criticism about the recent deadly terrorist attack in Libya Tuesday night in a debate crackling with energy and emotion just three weeks before the election.
Romney pushed back hard, saying the middle class "has been crushed over the last four years," that 23 million Americans are struggling to find work and that the death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya was part of an unraveling of the administration's foreign policy.
The president was feistier from the outset than he had been in their initial encounter two weeks ago, when he turned in a listless performance that sent shudders through his supporters and helped fuel a rise by Romney in opinion polls nationally and in some battleground states.
Obama challenged Romney on economics and energy policy, accusing him of switching positions and declaring that his economic plan was a "sketchy deal" that the public should reject.
Romney gave as good as he got.
"You'll get your chance in a moment. I'm still speaking," the former Massachusetts governor said at one point while Obama was mid-sentence. He said the president's policies had failed to jumpstart the economy and crimped energy production.
The open-stage format left the two men free to stroll freely across a red-carpeted stage, and they did. Their clashes crackled with energy and tension, and the crowd watched raptly as the two sparred while struggling to appear calm and affable before a national television audience.
The rivals disagreed about taxes, measures to reduce the deficit, energy, pay equity for women and health care issues. Immigration prompted yet another clash, Romney saying Obama had failed to pursue the comprehensive legislation he promised at the dawn of his administration, and the president saying Republican obstinacy made a deal impossible.
Under the format agreed to in advance, members of an audience of 82 uncommitted voters posed questions to the president and his challenger.
Nearly all of them concerned domestic policy until one raised the subject of the recent death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya in a terrorist attack at an American post in Benghazi.
Romney said it took Obama a long time to admit the episode had been a terrorist attack, but Obama said he had said so the day after in an appearance in the Rose Garden outside the White House.
When moderator Candy Crowley of CNN said the president had in fact done so, Obama, prompted, "Say that a little louder, Candy."
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has taken responsibility for the death of Ambassador L. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, but Obama said bluntly, "I'm the president and I'm always responsible.
Romney said it was "troubling" that Obama continued with a campaign event in Las Vegas on the day after the attack in Libya, an event he said had "symbolic significance and perhaps even material significance."
Obama seemed to bristle. He said it was offensive for anyone to allege that he or anyone in his administration had used the incident for political purposes. "That's not what I do."
President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are clashing over immigration, with Romney accusing Obama of failing to reform the immigration system during his first term.
Romney says during the second presidential debate that the nation needs to stop illegal immigration, noting that 4 million people are trying to gain American citizenship legally. He says he won't grant amnesty to people who come to the U.S. illegally.
Obama says Romney has opposed the DREAM Act, a failed bill that would have provided a path to legal status for many young illegal immigrants.
He says Republicans in Congress have been unwilling to support comprehensive immigration reform and won't in the future with Romney as the "standard-bearer" of his party.
ON GEORGE W. BUSH
Mitt Romney says he differs from fellow Republican George W. Bush on energy policy, China and deficits. President Barack Obama says the biggest difference is that his GOP rival is more extreme on social issues than Bush.
A voter during Tuesday's town hall-style debate asked Romney how he was different than Bush, who left office deeply unpopular. Romney says that he would govern under different conditions that would allow him to make North America energy independent from Arab and Venezuelan oil. He also says he would crack down on China's currency manipulation and cut the deficit by increasing trade.
Obama was ready with a quick retort. He says Romney, unlike Bush, would cut funding to Planned Parenthood and that Romney would pursue a more stringent immigration policy than Bush did.
ON TAX PLAN EFFECTS ON DEFICIT
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama both say their tax plans would benefit the middle class and spur job creation, and both are suggesting their opponent's plan would do the opposite.
Romney says cutting tax rates across the board would spur job growth. He says bringing rates down makes it easy for small businesses to keep more of their capital and hire more workers.
But Obama, who supports raising tax rates on upper incomes, says Romney's proposed tax cuts and his calls for increased military spending would add trillions to the federal debt.
Obama said to Romney, a former businessman, quote, "You wouldn't have taken such a sketchy deal."
Romney told the audience they shouldn't either, referring to Obama's plan.
President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have had a number of pointed exchanges during the second presidential debate, challenging each other on energy policy, pointing fingers and often speaking over one another.
Without a desk between them, the candidates approached each other on stage at one point during a discussion on energy.
As Romney answered a question on gas prices and oil drilling, Obama stood up and moved toward his Republican challenger. Romney turned to the president's direction and they quarreled as they stood only a few feet apart.
At one point, Obama sharply rejected Romney's arguments, saying, "Not true, Gov. Romney."
When Obama interjected with his energy positions, Romney responded, "You'll get your chance ... I'm still speaking."
Republican Mitt Romney criticized President Barack Obama's energies policies and said his rival "has not been Mr. Oil or Mr. Gas or Mr. Coal."
The pair sparred on energy policy as they met Tuesday for their second debate, a town hall-style meeting with undecided voters in New York.
Obama says he wants U.S. energy policy to look ahead 20 or 30 years, and not just look at what lowers the cost right away. The president says he's all for oil and natural gas, but he says he will not focus on them exclusively at the peril of renewable energy sources that could create thousands of jobs.
Romney says Obama has fought new energy exploration on federal lands and that Americans have faced higher energy costs as a result.
ON ECONOMIC PROPOSALS
An aggressive President Barack Obama ripped into Mitt Romney's economic proposals in a town hall style debate tonight, accusing his rival of favoring a "one-point plan" to help the rich at the expense of the middle class. The Republican protested the charge was way off the mark.
"The middle class has been crushed over the last four years," Romney said in the opening moments of the 90-minute debate, the second of three between the two men.
Obama strode onto the debate stage seeking a stronger showing than the listless performance in their initial encounter, which had sent shudders through his partisan supporters and helped fuel a rise in opinion polls by Romney.
The president was feistier from the outset, quickly challenging Romney on economics and energy policy, and accusing him of switching positions on coal production.
President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney offered their jobs agenda at the start of the second presidential debate, responding to a college student concerned about finding a job after graduation.
Romney told the student that his question was one that's being asked by college student across the nation. He said his administration would try to make it easier for students to afford college and promote economic growth to help students.
Romney says the nation faces more debt and fewer jobs. He says, quote, "I'm going to change that."
Obama says he would build upon the 5 million private sector jobs created during his first term, pushing for more manufacturing jobs. The president said his policies aimed to improve the education system and promote a variety of energy sources.