Presidential debate: Romney, Obama clash in New York town hall meeting


Supporters of President Barack Obama watch the second presidential debate in New York City on October 16, 2012.


Jennifer Mattson

NEW YORK — A more aggressive President Barack Obama faced off against GOP rival Mitt Romney in their second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York.

CNN's chief political correspondent Candy Crowley moderated the lively 90 minute town hall meeting, sometimes finding it difficult to control the two candidates.

After a lackluster performance in the first debate, Obama was on the offensive, swinging hard against Governor Romney on a number of issues ranging from Libya and China on the foreign policy front to taxes, women's issues and immigration on the domestic.

GlobalPost's Jennifer Mattson spent the evening watching the televised debates with Obama supporters in nearby New York City, not far from the main event.

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Some 250 Obama voters gathered at Smithfield Lounge, a bar in Manhattan, to cheer on the president at a party organized by the Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century.

All in all, the Obama backers called the debate for the president, hands down.

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Tammy Mack-Lowe, 37, a residential design consultant, summed up the feeling of many in the crowd: “We always knew he could float like a butterfly, now we know he can sting like a bee.”

“It seemed very clear that Romney does not know the people because he is not of the people... he still seems out of touch," she added.

Brennan Rees, 41, a film producer, said he was "ecstatically happy. (The debate was) everything I could have hoped for."

Rees added "We got an Obama who cared and defended his policies and explained what he will do in the next four years.”

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At no point did that seem more true than when Obama brought up Romney's wealth and financial investments in China.

"Any investments I have over the last eight years have been managed by a blind trust," Romney said, countering "Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?"

In one of many sharp and tense verbal exchanges of the evening, Obama shot back "I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours."

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As the town hall progressed, the candidates received a number of questions from undecided voters, including a few on immigration that struck a cord for some of those watching in Manhattan.

“This is my first time watching. I just became a citizen (in 2010)," said Isilay Cabuk, a data associate, originally from Turkey.

Cabuk said she was not impressed with Romney's stance on immigration and was particularly against the notion of "self-deportation," an issue the candidates clashed on repeatedly. 

Obama criticized Romney's plan for "comprehensive immigration reform" calling Romney out for backing "self-deportation," a plan which the president said "is making life so miserable on folks that they'll leave."

Tea Saiti, 28, a paralegal, said "I’m an immigrant. The topic of 'self-deportation' was notable to me because it took me over two decades to get my green card even though I have paid taxes since i was 18 and was educated here, both in public and private school."

Saiti, who came to the US from Kosovo in 1987 and whose family later came as refugees from the Bosnian war, said "I was personally offended that he said that anyone who couldn't find opportunity here should go elsewhere."

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Perhaps one of the most contentious moments in the debate was when Romney and Obama sparred on the issue of Libya and the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, which killed US Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

After being repeatedly pressed on the timeline of events concerning the administration's response, Obama said "The suggestion that... anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we've lost four of our own, governor, is offensive."

When Romney replied that Obama had not called the attack "an act of terror" Crowley stepped in as moderator, fact checking the statement, which elicited a round of applause for the president.

“The Republicans were so desperate to make political hay of this," said Brennan Rees." It upsets me this is a political issue. It’s not. It's an American issue. And I though Obama eliminated it tonight... Romney thought he had a slam dunk moment and he was wrong. “

Rees said he also thought the president was particularly passionate about his overall record and that the debate addressed critical issues lacking in the first two debates such those affecting female voters:  “They are women’s issues but they are about everyone.“