HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) — An aggressive President Barack Obama ripped into Mitt Romney's economic blueprint in a town hall style debate Tuesday night, 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 precisely three weeks before Election Day in a close race for the White House.
The president was feistier from the outset than he had been in their initial encounter, where 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 from the outset on economics and energy policy, accusing him of switching positions on coal production 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.
The open-stage format, with no physical objects between them, placed incumbent and challenger face to face and, when they chose, directly in each other's faces. Their physical encounters 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 — all in less than the first half of the 90-minute debate at Hofstra University.