Mitt Romney took a more energized Barack Obama to task during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in New York, criticizing the president's record of a slumping economy, tax increases, and terrorist attacks on the American embassy in Libya.
Both Romney and Obama spent the night outlining dueling visions of what America would look like under a Romney administration. The GOP challenger hammered home his plans to lower taxes across the board by 20 percent while reducing tax deductions for the wealthy.
"I will not, under any circumstances, increase taxes on the middle-class," Romney said. "The president's spending, the president's borrowing will cost this nation to have to raise taxes on the American people. Not just at the high end," adding that the middle class would pay "$4,000.00 per year in higher taxes."
Obama attempted to stir class divisions by accusing Romney of ignoring "98 percent" of earners.
"During a Republican primary [Romney] stood on stage and said ‘I'm going to give tax cuts’—he didn't say tax rate cuts, he said ‘tax cuts to everybody,’ including the top 1 percent, you should believe him because that's been his history. And that's exactly the kind of top-down economics that is not going to work."
Obama was irritable at times, storming to the front of the stage on several occasions as Romney attempted to answer questions and speaking over moderator Candy Crowley as she tried to move on to other questions. Both Crowley and Romney were forced to ask Obama to "sit down" several times during the 90-minute debate.
The fireworks started early as a 20-year-old college student asked Romney about the 50 percent underemployment rate among college graduates under the Obama administration. Young people have been hit hardest by the recession. The youth misery index, a combination of youth unemployment and debt, has reached a record-high 90.6 over the last four years, according to the conservative Young America’s Foundation.
"The key thing is to make sure you can get a job when you get out of school. And what's happened over the last four years has been very, very hard for America's young people," Romney said. "You've got more and more debt on your back. So more debt and less jobs. I'm going to change that."
Romney cited his five-point plan of tax reform and spending cuts as a driving force behind economic growth. Obama spent most of the night attacking his Republican foe.
"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," Obama said.
Obama displayed an aggressiveness that was lacking when he lost the first debate to Romney on October 3. He went after his challenger’s wealth, private-sector experience, and blind-trust investments.
"Keep in mind that Governor Romney invested in companies that were pioneers of outsourcing to China," Obama said.
Romney advised Obama to "Look at your pension. You also have investments in Chinese companies. You also have investments outside the United States. You also have investments through a Cayman's trust."
Romney criticized the Obama administration’s handling of the September 11th terrorist attack in Libya that claimed the lives of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. While Obama disputed Romney’s version of events, moderator Candy Crowley later admitted he was right "in the main."
The debate only briefly touched on foreign policy, however, focusing mostly on social and economic issues.
"We don't have to settle for what we're going through," Romney said. "We don't have to settle for gasoline at four bucks. We don't have to settle for unemployment at a chronically high level. We don't have to settle for 47 million people on food stamps. We don't have to settle for 50 percent of kids coming out of college not able to get work. We don't have to settle for 23 million people struggling to find a good job."
Romney and Obama fielded questions from about a dozen "undecided" voters in a townhall debate hosted by CNN’s Crowley. The moderator, who approved the questions before the debate, spent much time breaking the two candidates up and pressing Romney for follow up answers.
She could not stop Obama from talking over Romney, who spoke four minutes less than the president. Obama has spoken nearly eight minutes longer than Romney through two debates.
Snap polls taken after the debate concluded suggest voters believed the contest to be a draw.
Romney and Obama will face off for the third and final time when they debate foreign policy in Boca Raton, FL, on Monday.