HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. - Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama really don't like each other, but at least Tuesday's presidential town hall debate here at Hofstra University didn't come to blows.
There was plenty of finger-pointing, stare-downs and accusations of lying, though, as the candidates at times circled each other on stage like prize fighters.
"You'll get your chance in a moment. I'm still speaking," Romney told Obama at one point while the two were face to face, drawing a grasp from the audience.
An aggressive Obama, widely panned for his lacklustre performance in Denver's debate earlier this month, came out swinging and blasted Romney for having a "sketchy" tax plan that didn't add up, and repeatedly being a flip-flopper.
"When I hear Gov. Romney say heís a big coal guy, I mean, keep in mind, Governor, when you were governor of Massachusetts, you stood in front of a coal plant and pointed at it and said, íThis plant kills,í and took great pride in shutting it down. And now suddenly, youíre a big champion of coal,Ē Obama said, later joking Romney was "against assault rifles before he was for them," during a question about gun rights.
But Romney turned in a very strong performance, too ó except when he repeatedly quibbled with moderator Candy Crowley over time allotment ó and seemed best attacking Obama's record and arguing he has failed to turn the economy around.
ďThe president has tried, but his policies havenít worked. Heís great as a speaker and at describing his plans and his vision. Thatís wonderful, except we have a record to look at and that record shows that he just hasnít been able to cut the deficit, to put in place reforms for Medicare and Social Security to preserve them, to get us the rising incomes we need,Ē Romney said. ďI know what it takes to get this economy going. I know what it takes to create good jobs again.Ē
The town hall debate included 80 undecided Long Island voters in the studio audience whose questions spanned the gamut, including: Energy policy, equal pay for women, college graduates getting work, illegal immigration, gun rights and the terrorist attack in Libya ó though it was 70
minutes in before that question came up.
And when it did, Romney's attack veered off Libya, and he was left out to dry when he challenged the president on what he said following the attack in Benghazi, only to be corrected by Obama and the CNN moderator.
(Following the debate, conservatives took issue with Crowley's performance and joked it was a two-on-one pile-on.)
While there isn't much to laugh about when it comes to the struggling economy, Obama bested Romney on the issue of foreign investments. Obama accused Romney of keeping much of his wealth in off-shore accounts and in Chinese investments, while at the same time vowing to get tough on China.
Standing toe-to-toe, Romney repeatedly asked the president if he'd looked at his pension, which also included foreign investments.
"Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?" Romney repeated, to which Obama fired back: "You know, I donít look at my pension. Itís not as big as yours."
Coming into Tuesday's debate, Obama's task was massive: Namely, show-up ó unlike in Denver ó and show some passion for his argument that he deserves another four years.
His strongest moments, though, came when he was attacking Romney, not defending his record.
ĒThe commitments Iíve made, Iíve kept. And those that I havenít been able to keep, itís not for a lack of trying and weíre going to get it done in the second term," Obama answered a voter who said he supported him in 2008 but he was less enthusiastic this time around.
With the town hall debate now behind them, both campaigns will move forward virtually tied not only in national polls but also in several critical swing states where they will focus almost exclusively until Monday's final debate on foreign policy in Boca Raton, Fla.