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Obama goes on offensive in second debate

HEMPSTEAD, New York -- U.S. President Barack Obama launched aggressive attacks against Republican rival Mitt Romney on jobs, energy and Libya in their second debate on Tuesday as the Democrat tried to reclaim the momentum in a tight White House race.

Obama was much sharper and more energetic than in their opening debate two weeks ago, when his listless performance was heavily criticized and gave Romney's campaign a much-needed boost in the run-up to the Nov. 6 election.

The president scolded Romney for accusing him of trying to take political advantage of the attack by Islamist militants in Libya last month that killed four Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.

“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 said during the debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, calling the accusation “offensive.”

“I'm the president and I'm always responsible, and that's why nobody's more interested in finding out exactly what happened,” Obama said.

Romney questioned Obama's claim that he called the Benghazi attack “an act of terror” in the White House Rose Garden the day afterward, but moderator Candy Crowley of CNN corrected the Republican. Transcripts show Obama did use the term that day.

The Republican accused Obama of failing to follow through on the promises of his 2008 campaign.

In one of his stronger moments in the 90-minute debate, Romney took aim at Obama's economic record in office, saying it has led to 15 million more people on food stamps, slow growth and a lack of jobs.

Polls showed voters judged Obama the winner. A CNN survey gave him the edge by 46 percent to 39 percent, while CBS had Obama the winner by 37 percent to 30 percent.

Prize Fighters

Both candidates roamed the stage to talk directly to participants in the town-hall format, where undecided voters from Long Island asked the questions.

At times the two men circled each other warily at center stage like prize fighters, talking over each other and bickering frequently about the rules and who had exceeded their time.

Romney confronted Obama face-to-face at one point to ask repeatedly if licenses and permits for energy drilling on federal land had been reduced during his administration.

Recent polls have put the race for the White House at a virtual dead heat just three weeks ahead of the election.

Obama seems to have stopped his slide after this last debate. In a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll on Tuesday, he gained a bit more ground on Romney for the third straight day and led 46 percent to 43 percent.

But a Gallup/USA Today survey showed Romney ahead by 4 percentage points in the 12 most contested states.

After being slammed for his passive performance in the first debate, Obama attacked Romney repeatedly this time.

He resurrected his charge that the economic proposals put forward by the former private equity executive were designed to protect and bolster the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.

“Governor Romney says he's got a five-point plan. 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.

The two also clashed over the Obama administration's 2009 auto bailout, with Romney saying Obama had misrepresented his position that General Motors should go into a managed bankruptcy.

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Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and U.S. President Barack Obama spar during the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York on Tuesday, Oct. 16. (AP)

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