Oct 17, 2012, 10.54 AM IST
US President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney disagreed over the economy in their second debate o n Tuesday, with Obama under heavy pressure to turn in a sharp and energetic performance three weeks before polling day.
Romney's campaign got a much-needed boost two weeks ago when he came out firing in the first matchup between the two candidates, while Obama was widely criticized, including by his own supporters, for his passive response.
That performance helped the Republican reverse his slide in the polls, and recent surveys have put the race for the White House at a virtual dead heat just three weeks ahead of the November 6 election.
Obama was aggressive at the start of their encounter on Tuesday, slamming the Republican's economic plan.
"Governor Romney says he's got a five-point plan. 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," he said.
Romney accused his rival of overseeing a stagnant economy. "The middle class has been crushed over the last four years and jobs have been too scarce," the former Massachusetts governor said.
Obama seems to have stopped the slide in polls after the last debate. In a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll on Tuesday, he gained a bit more ground on Romney for the third straight day, leading 46 percent to 43 percent.
But a Gallup/USA Today poll showed Romney ahead of Obama by 4 percentage points among likely voters in the 12 most contested states.
The debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY is in a more intimate town-hall format, where undecided local voters from New York state's Nassau County ask the questions. The format often inhibits political attacks as the candidates focus on connecting with the voters asking the questions.
For Obama, the challenge is to confront Romney on the issues without seeming nasty or too personal. Romney, a wealthy former private equity executive often accused of failing to connect with ordinary people, would be happy with a steady performance to keep up his momentum.
The economy is expected to be a dominant topic. Obama will be able to tout the latest jobs report, which showed that the unemployment rate dropped unexpectedly to 7.8 percent in September and reached its lowest level since Obama took office in January 2009.
Romney has countered that the labor market is not healing fast enough.
Romney will likely stay on the offensive over the administration's handling of diplomatic security in Libya before September 11 attacks there that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. The debate comes a day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assumed responsibility for a lack of security that failed to protect against the deadly attack.
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