Up Close and Personal: Voters Question Candidates

By James Finn 9-16-2012 

Undecided voters had the chance tonight to question President Barack Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney in their second presidential election debate.  And it was a feisty night.

Twelve members of the audience at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York asked questions related to foreign and domestic policy.  CNN’s Candy Crowley held the task of reining in the candidates when they sparred on issues.

Mr. Obama appeared livelier in the debate as he engaged Mr. Romney. The President rarely broke eye contact with his opponent and addressed the GOP candidate’s infamous 47 percent comments. Mr. Romney heatedly responded to the President’s accusations of “sketchy deals” and his “math not adding up.” Mr. Romney’s attacks included accusing the President of not living up to his promises made in the past 2008 campaign.

Recurring issues for voters included taxation and the economy. New issues included gun control, the search for natural gas, the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, and immigration.

Polls have recently had Mitt Romney gaining on Barack Obama’s lead among women. So women’s issues specifically equal pay for equal work took center stage.  Mr. Romney said that when he was elected governor of Massachusetts he needed to find qualified women for his cabinet.  So he went to women’s groups and got binders filled with qualified females.  He also said that he supported one chief staffer’s going home at 5 pm to cook dinner for her children.  He was never asked if he would have signed the Lily Ledbetter bill into law.  It removes the time deadline for filling lawsuits surrounding equal pay cases.  That was the first bill President Obama signed into law.

One audience member was uncertain about Mr. Romney’s political identity.  So he asked him “What is the biggest difference between you and George W. Bush, and how do you differentiate yourself from George W. Bush?”

Mr. Romney answered that “President Bush and I are different people, and these are different times.”  President Obama then took the opportunity to say that Mitt Romney was to the right of George W. Bush on social issues but the same on taxation.

Another question was “can you take this opportunity to debunk a misperception about yourself and set us straight?”

“I care about a hundred percent of the American people,” replied Mr. Romney. This time, the Republican presidential hopeful did not exclude 47 percent of the American population as he had in a secretly taped talk with potential campaign donors in Florida this past summer.  At that time he had said those Americans failed to have personal responsibility and he could not help them.

Mr. Obama also received a personal question from an audience member. The African-American man had voted for the President in 2008 and is uncertain he will again.  He asked “What have you done or accomplished to earn my vote in 2012?”

The President replied, “The commitments I’ve made, I’ve kept. And those that I haven’t been able to keep, it’s not for lack of trying, and we’re going to get it done in a second term.”

Near the end of the debate there was a very tense exchange between the two about the attack in Libya which killed 4 Americans including Ambassador Stevens.  President Obama denied Mr. Romney’s accusation that he had not denounced the “act of terror” when he addressed the world in the Rose Garden at the White House the day after the attack.  Moderator Crowley confirmed that the President had indeed used that phrase.  Mr. Obama then said it was offensive for Mitt Romney’s to claim that he and his administration had used the attack for political reasons.

Next Monday, the candidates will face off one last time at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.  The topic will be foreign policy.