By Deutsche Presse Agentur
Washington - US President Barack Obama came out swinging Tuesday in a confrontational presidential debate against challenger Mitt Romney, as the incumbent sought to make up lost ground after a weak performance in their first encounter.
Obama frequently accused Romney of making statements that were "just not true" on the bailout of the US car industry, energy policy and taxes. Romney for his part continually reminded viewers that Obama's policies had done little to improve a faltering economy.
With just three weeks before November 6 elections, both candidates sought to energize their loyalists and woo undecided voters in the crucial swing states expected to determine the outcome of the election.
Obama unquestionably improved on his performance from his listless showing two weeks earlier, when he seemed to lose ground against Romney, who surged in the polls after their first encounter on October 3.
A survey by broadcaster CNN of people who watched the debate found 46 per cent thought Obama won, while 39 per cent favoured Romney.
There was almost no discussion of foreign policy except from theattack on the US consulate in Libya. Romney painted the administration as slow to label the September 11 incident as a terrorist attack, while Obama claimed he had made a quick reference to an act of terror.
At one point, the men approached each other trading verbal jabs as they stood just feet apart and questioned the veracity of each others' arguments.
"Governor Romney doesn't have a five-point (economic) plan - hehas a one-point plan," Obama said, "and it's to make sure that people at the top play by a different set of rules." The 90-minute debate at Hofstr a University in New York state saw questions posed from undecided voters in the audience.
"I think you know that these last four years haven't been so good as the president just described, and that you don't feel like you're confident that the next four years are going to be much better either," Romney told one questioner who said he had voted for Obama four years ago.
Romney argued for his proposal to cut income taxes by 20 per cent across the board, saying that the reductions could be paid for by paring back tax deductions. He pointed out that 54 per cent of US workers are employed at small businesses taxed under the personal income tax.
Obama replied that "we haven't heard from the governor any specifics" about how to pay for what Obama argued were tax policies that would cost more than 6 trillion dollars over 10 years.
He said that Romney himself, as a successful investor, "wouldn't have taken such a sketchy deal," Obama said. "And neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn't add up." Romney said the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans illustrated the failure of Obama's foreign policy.
"This was an attack by terrorists," Romney said, questioning theObama administration's initial claims that the incident arose from a mob protesting an anti-Islam film. "This calls into question the president's entire policy in the Middle East." Obama dodged a question about whether the State Department had ignored requests for more security at the Benghazi compound.
"I'm the president and I'm always responsible," he said. "That's why no one is more interested in finding out exactly what happened than me." The men then traded barbs about whether Obama had called the incident a terrorist attack immediately following the event. His remarks the next day at the White House made reference to "acts of terror," but the administration continued to say the attack arose from an angry mob. That claim proved false.
Romney was widely seen as the winner of the first debate onOctober 3, and pressure had mounted on Obama to perform in their second face off.
Opinion polls show Romney gaining ground since the first debate, with a USA Today and Gallup poll earlier in the day showing 50 percent of likely voters in 12 swing states would choose the Republican candidate for president, while 46 would choose Obama. The margin of error was plus or minus 4 points.