Sparks fly as Obama, Romney face off in 2nd debate

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U.S. President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney traded assaults in their second debate Tuesday night in a rare format of town hall meeting.

U.S. President Barack Obama greets his Republican challenger Mitt Romney on Tuesday night before their second presidential debate. [Xinhua]

U.S. President Barack Obama greets his Republican challenger Mitt Romney on Tuesday night before their second presidential debate. [Xinhua] 

Obama, who is under pressure to perform up, led the charge. He aggressively attacked Romney's economic proposals as a "one-point plan" to help the rich, while saying his own plans would grow the economy and help the middle class.

"When Governor Romney said we should let Detroit go bankrupt, I said we're going to bet on American workers," said Obama. "Governor Romney doesn't have a five-point plan. He has a one-point plan, and that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules."

Romney didn't hesitate to hit back, saying the president's policies haven't put Americans back to work.

But the fiercest exchanges took place when the two were debating energy policy, with Romney attacking Obama and repeatedly asking him how many permits to drill oil his administration had revoked, and repeatedly accused that oil production on federal lands was down during Obama's presidency, to which Obama refuted.

At one point, Romney prevented Obama from interjecting, saying "you'll get your chance in a moment," drawing gasps from the audience.

Obama, on the other hand, accused Romney of flipflopping on his support for coal, and said Romney's proposals has no plan for the future. He continued the flipflopping accusation in answering questions related to healthcare, taxes and immigration.

Benghazi debacle

The two also clashed over the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi on the night of Sept. 11, which resulted in the deaths of U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three of his staff. The exchange led to an obvious blunder of Romney, who insisted Obama didn't call the attack an act of terror the second day, which he did. The moderator Candy Crowley pointed that out on the spot.

During the heated exchange, Obama said he is "ultimately responsible" for the lack of protection that led to the deaths of the U.S. personnel.

"I'm the president and I'm always responsible," said Obama.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday she took responsibility for the deadly assault on the American consulate in Benghazi, in an apparent bid to take the heat off Obama.

The Obama administration has been under fire from the Republicans who accused him of being unprepared for the attacks and trying to cover up the mishandling.

"The suggestion that anybody on my team, whether it's a secretary of state, our UN ambassador, anybody on my team, would play politics or mislead when we've lost four of our own, governor, is offensive," said a visibly annoyed Obama.

Romney fought back hard on the issue, accusing Obama of continuing to go to a fund-raising tour the day after the attacks and saying that the deadly assault represents the "unraveling" of Obama's Middle East policy.

The town-hall-meeting-style face-off, with high stakes for both candidates, took place at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, featuring questions from an audience composed of 82 uncommitted voters selected by Gallup.

The format allowed the candidates to walk around the room, and at times even circle one another as they trade barbs during the confrontational showdown.

Romney came into the debate with clear momentum behind his back and rising polling numbers, following his commanding performance in the first debate in Denver on Oct. 3.

Commentators said Obama needs to do well in the second debate in order to stop Romney's surge, or the incumbent could see the election slip away.

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