President Barack Obama took the clear lead in Tuesday night's second of three presidential debates against Republican contender, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Throughout the 90-minute face-off held on the campus of Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY, Obama responded full force to Romney, delivering a performance that was a far cry from the mediocre presentation he rendered two weeks ago in Colorado. Although the president failed to knock Romney completely out, he was the victor on several points.
"Most improved -- that award goes to Barack Obama," CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen said afterward. "I think he had a much stronger debate tonight."
The event, which was offered in a town hall format, was moderated by Candy Crowley, CNN chief political correspondent, who allowed each candidate two minutes to respond to questions fielded from a small but diverse audience. Their questions ranged from the candidates' take on the country's ongoing rate of joblessness to last month's terrorist attack on the U. S. consulate in Libya.
Romney was the first to respond to a question about new college graduates' abilities to secure jobs in a weakened economy -- and how they would pay off exorbitant student loans.
"We have to make sure students can graduate and find jobs after college," Romney said. "[In order to do that] we have to keep Pell Grants and loans growing [in a society where there is] more debt and less jobs," he said. "But [if elected] we will change that – we're bringing back the economy . . . not like it was four years ago."
Obama responded, saying that students' futures are bright and the fact they're making an investment in their education is critical.
"I want to build on the five million jobs we've [already] created over the last 30 months in the private sector," he said.
To that, Romney explained that his goal in part, is to create 12 million jobs over a four-year span.
"The president's policies are not putting people back to work," Romney said. "The [current] 7.8 percent rate of unemployment is the same as it was four years ago."
On gas prices that spiked this past summer before beginning to dip just a few weeks ago, both Obama and Romney vowed a reduction, pledging they would do what they could to take control of costs that have repeatedly exceeded $4 per gallon.
"We have to make sure we can control our own energy," Obama said. "We have to have efficient energy to make gas prices lower. Romney got the oil and gas part, but he's not clear pm the energy part."
But Romney countered that Obama's energy plan is not working and if so, gas prices would have never reached the $4 per gallon mark.
The debate advanced to include questions about taxes, to which Romney answered that he would endeavor to bring rates down.
"I don't want people at the high end paying less now than middle income people – who will get a tax break," he said.
While Obama said he wants to give the middle class and others struggling to become part of it, tax reliefs, he added he is ready "to sign a bill now," but it hasn't happened because Congress wants to hold out for "the top two percent" [of taxpayers].
Regarding the attack on Benghazi where U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed, Obama confirmed that although terrorists were responsible and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said she takes full responsibility, overall, he shoulders blame as well.
Romney appeared miffed that it took the administration "days" after the attack to confirm it was an act of terrorism, rather than the result of a video protest as news reports had previously stated.