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Barack Obama, Mitt Romney Tangle in Heated Second Presidential Debate

John Moore/Getty Images
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama talk over each other as they answer questions Tuesday night during a town hall-style debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney fought to a draw Tuesday in their second debate, but it was bloody, with each candidate scoring points in several heated exchanges.

From jobs to gas prices to immigration to taxes, Obama and Romney tangled aggressively, sometimes talking over each other and the moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley. Snap polls and focus groups offered the campaigns and their supporters something to feel good about, although each team and their surrogates insisted that they dominated the town hall-style event.

“This was in New York — this was a New York-style debate,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told reporters on the campus of Hofstra University on Long Island. “I disagree with a lot of what President Obama said tonight, but I don’t disagree with the two of them going at. That’s what it’s about.”

Perhaps the defining moment of the debate — or at least the one that was most ready-made for replay on local television, talk radio and cable news — came in an exchange about the attacks that killed American diplomatic personnel in Benghazi, Libya.

After the president spoke about the attack, Romney jumped in.

“I want to make sure we get that for the record because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror,” the governor said.

“Get the transcript,” an angry-sounding president replied.

Crowley cut in and said that Obama did, in fact, call the attack an “act of terror.”

Obama, seated in his chair, pointed his finger at the moderator’s dais and said, “Can you say that a little louder, Candy?”

The audience began to applaud.

As TV fact-checkers pointed out after the debate, Obama’s quote from his Rose Garden speech the day after the attacks was “No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation.” But whatever the nuances of fact, the moment, both to viewers at home and pundits on TV, looked like a win for a president who badly needed one.

Early analysis of the debate was mixed, but the distillate of punditry certainly appeared to be that Obama, with his back up against the wall, had put things back on the right track, even if he didn’t move the his campaign’s train forward a great deal.

The spin by campaign operatives here began before the debate had even concluded, with both sides claiming victory.

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