(AP) -- Highlights from the presidential debate Tuesday night between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney, just three weeks from the Nov. 6 election.
Romney and Obama tangled for the first time face to face—and heatedly—over the administration’s handling of the September attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans.
Romney accused Obama of taking too long to refer to the attack as a terrorist strike, and of turning too quickly to politics after the tragedy. Obama later pointed out that he referred to “acts of terror” the very next day.
Romney told the audience: “On the day following the assassination of the United States ambassador, the first time that’s happened since 1979, when—when we have four Americans killed there, when apparently we didn’t know what happened, that the president, the day after that happened, flies to Las Vegas for a political fund-raiser.”
Visibly upset, Obama said he went to the Rose Garden the day after the attack to pledge that he would find out what happened, and later met with grieving families.
“And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president, that’s not what I do as commander in chief.”
OBAMA, THE AGGRESSOR
Obama came out swinging, striking immediately at Romney’s opposition to the Democrat’s handling of the auto industry bailout.
Obama was seen as having missed opportunities to make gains in the first debate with Romney two weeks ago. The Republican was viewed as having won the debate.
In their second meeting, Obama accused Romney of letting the oil companies write the energy policies and said Romney had “gone to a more extreme place when it comes to social policy” than George W. Bush, the most recent Republican president.
Obama’s style was also much more confrontational. He addressed Romney directly, unlike their first debate in Denver, when Obama almost exclusively addressed the moderator and the audience.
And several times Obama accused Romney of being untruthful, repeating “what you’re saying is just not true.”
Obama and Romney are vying for key female supporters—and their responses during the debate showed it.
But Romney raised more than a few eyebrows when he referred to “binders full of women” while describing efforts to diversify his Cabinet as governor of Massachusetts.
“I went to a number of women’s groups and said, ‘Can you help us find folks?’ and they brought us whole binders full of women,” Romney said, apparently referring to books of resumes.
Binders were a hot topic on Twitter as debate viewers mulled the odd imagery. Tweeted actor Zach Braff: “The main thing I took from tonight is that I need a binder full of women.”
Romney also made an economic case, saying that growing the economy would help women struggling to find jobs and pay bills.
Obama, meanwhile, noted that the first piece of legislation he signed made it easier for women to seek the same pay as men for doing the same work. He questioned Romney’s commitment to women’s health care, pointing to the Republican’s vow to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood. “These are not just women’s issues. These are family issues. These are economic issues,” Obama said.
BACK AND FORTH
Not only was Obama more aggressive, the president and Romney slowly circled around each other—at times standing face to face—in moves that seemed more choreographed by a boxing trainer than a debate coach.
Their exchanges were equally animated. At times they spoke loudly over each other as moderator Candy Crowley tried to keep order.
“Gov. Romney, keep it short,” Crowley said.
“Just going to make a point,” Romney shot back.
“I’m used to being interrupted,” Obama quipped.
At one point, Romney confronted Obama over comments Obama made regarding Romney’s investments.
At another, Obama, watching the moderator for his turn, popped up off his stool, only to sit back down as Romney continued.
The second debate had plenty of sharp, one-liners.
At one point, Romney asked the president if he had looked at his pension lately. Referencing Romney’s wealth, Obama shot back: “I don’t look at my pension. It’s not as big as yours so it doesn’t take as long.”
Romney said Obama’s handling of the economy had hurt millions of families. “The middle class has been crushed over the last four years, and jobs have been too scarce,” Romney said, a line that he returned to later in the evening.
Obama offered another zinger when he accused Romney of hiding the specifics of his tax plan. “We haven’t heard from the governor any specifics beyond Big Bird and eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood.”
47 PERCENT EMERGES
After the first debate, many Democrats said they were surprised that Obama never brought up Romney’s videotaped remarks that 47 percent of Americans are dependent on the government. This time, Obama turned it into his closing statement.
Asked about misperceptions of their candidacies, Romney said Obama’s campaign had tried to turn him into something he’s not and told the audience that he cares “about 100 percent of the American people.”
When it came time for Obama to respond, the president pounced, saying that when Romney said “behind closed doors” that 47 percent considered themselves victims, “think about who he was talking about.” He rattled off a litany of key voting groups: the elderly receiving Social Security, veterans, students and soldiers.
Obama said he wanted to “fight for them ... If they succeed, I believe this country succeeds.”