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Presidential Slugfest: Most Confrontational Ever?

By    |   Wednesday, 17 October 2012 12:33 AM

It was perhaps the most confrontational, hotly disputed presidential debate ever.

Those were a few of the superlatives that conservative pundits used to characterize Tuesday’s debate showdown, which featured sharp exchanges between President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney.

The political battle royal reached a climax over the question of whether President Barack Obama had identified the Benghazi assault as an act of terror the day after the deadly assault that claimed four American lives.

Urgent Poll: Obama or Romney? Who Won the Second Debate?

CNN moderator Candy Crowley stepped in to aver that Obama had called it a terror attack. That provoked charges of bias from conservatives, who pointed out that Obama had said in a speech from the Rose Garden that “no acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.” He did not label the specific attack that claimed the lives of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans a terrorist attack that was perpetrated by al-Qaida type elements, they said.

“Romney was correct,” former George W. Bush adviser Bradley Blakeman told Newsmax. “The president used ‘terror’ generically. He didn’t say this was an act of terror. In fact, he let 10 days go by.”

Blakeman, who said he could not recall a more confrontational presidential debate, and he criticized Crowley as more of a “participant” than a moderator, saying she “clearly helped Obama.”

Shortly after the debate, Crowley said: “I knew the president had said ‘act of terror’ because I heard it. But where Romney tripped himself up was that he picked that one wrong fact.” A CBS News flash poll of undecided voters indicated Obama won the debate with that voter demographic, 37 percent to 30 percent, with 33 percent of the respondents calling the debate a tie.

A CNN/ORC International survey taken immediately after the debate showed Obama winning 46 percent to Romney’s 39 percent. That 7 point difference was within the poll’s margin of error.

From the outset, the debate was marked by surprisingly sharp exchanges between the two candidates.

Urgent Poll: Obama or Romney? Who Won the Second Debate?

President Obama virtually called Gov. Romney a liar several times in the opening minutes of the debate, adding to the speculation that he harbors a personal animosity toward the former Massachusetts governor.

Romney said the unemployment rate would be 10.7 percent if people hadn’t dropped out of the workplace under the administration’s policies.
“What Gov. Romney said just isn’t true,” Obama shot back.

The president also played what Republicans call the “class-warfare” card. In reference to Romney’s plan to increase employment, Obama said: "Gov. Romney doesn't have a 5-point plan. He has a 1-point plan.”
He implied Romney’s one plan was to give wealthy Americans an advantage so they could “play by a separate set of rules.”

Romney went on to assert that public licenses for oil exploration had been reduced by the Obama administration. Obama said: “Very little of what Gov. Romney just said is true. We’ve opened up public lands . . . ”

Obama disputed an assertion by Romney that oil production on public lands has dropped 14 percent during his tenure, an assertion independent fact-checking organizations have evaluated as essentially or mostly true.

In a marked departure from Obama’s 2008 promise to elevate political discourse, he repeatedly insisted that Romney’s statements were false, and sometimes did so without citing his sources. At times the candidates appeared to circle near one another on stage, each insisting the other was promulgating falsehoods.

Both candidates made pitches to women voters, with Romney emphasizing workplace flexibility and job opportunities, while Obama focused on contraception and Planned Parenthood.

As the debate wrapped up, Fox news pundit Dick Morris tweeted: “Not as big as first debate, but a definite [Romney] win nonetheless. Romney will continue momentum as a result of this debate.”

Echoing those sentiments, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, a Republican, described the debate as a “very hard-fought contest.” He also was critical of the role Crowley played in trying to provide fact-checking on stage. But he indicated Romney won the Benghazi exchange anyway.

Urgent Poll: Obama or Romney? Who Won the Second Debate?

“Romney was slightly behind on points after an hour,” Blackwell told Newsmax. “He pulled even after the Benghazi exchange. In end they both did what they had to do -- after two debates, advantage Gov. Romney!”

Most observers felt Obama clearly delivered a more energetic performance, compared to the debate in Denver. A new ABC/Washington Post poll found a whopping 71 percent of voters thought Romney won that contest.

University of Virginia Center for Politics analyst Kyle Kondik told Newsmax that Obama “was certainly stronger tonight than he was two weeks ago.”

“It seems like Obama ‘won’ the debate,” Kondik said, “and the post-debate snap polls agreed – although this was not as dominate a showing as Mitt Romney had in Denver.”

Whether the debate will stop Obama’s recent slide in the polls will have to wait until Friday, when the first post-debate polls are released. “Perhaps it will stop the bleeding for Obama and return the race to its very close pre-convention state,” Kondik said. “Or maybe Obama will take back a more decisive lead – or perhaps it will do nothing.”

While absentee balloting is already underway in over 40 states, Obama desperately needed to reverse a momentum slide that has been reflected in recent polls. For the first time Monday, in an email to his supporters, the president conceded that the race was effectively “tied.”

Urgent Poll: Obama or Romney? Who Won the Second Debate?

The third and final presidential debate will be held Monday, October 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. The debate format will be identical to the Oct. 3 debate that featured Gov. Romney’s breakout performance.

Hosted by longtime CBS newsman Bob Schieffer, the last debate will focus on foreign policy.

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It was perhaps the most confrontational, hotly disputed presidential debate ever.
Wednesday, 17 October 2012 12:33 AM
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