By John Riordan, New York
President Barack Obama got his re-election bid back on track with a strong defence of his record in an at times tense "Town Hall" style debate in Long Island last night.
Having produced a lacklustre display in Denver almost two weeks ago, the president was under pressure from his own supporters to come out of his shell and he proved to be much more defiant, his precise takedowns of opponent Governor Mitt Romney's policies pulling no punches.
That said, the audience of over 80 undecided voters from the New York area who gathered at Hofstra University near Hempstead produced questions which were on balance critical of the current administration and saw to it that the Obama camp emerged with a victory margin that was narrow but just about enough to leave the many Democratic politicians in attendance with a renewed energy for the remaining three weeks before election day.
Unemployment once again topped the bill but there were also lengthy discussions about energy, tax, women's equality, immigration and assault weapons.
Early on there were many instances of each candidate interrupting the other but it was when the terrorist attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi was brought up by an audience member that President Obama really took exception to Governor Romney's assertions.
"The day after the attack, Governor, I stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror. And I also said that we’re going to hunt down those who committed this crime. And then a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families.
"And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our UN ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we’ve lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That’s not what we do. That’s not what I do as president. That’s not what I do as commander in chief."
When Romney retorted that it took the president 14 days before he called the attack an act of terror, moderator Candy Crowley backed Obama's version of events, a moment which was discussed at length by both sides during the aftermath.
Meanwhile, Obama repeated his assertion that the corporate tax rate in the US is too high, a situation which benefits the Irish economy hugely while Romney was at pains to defend his own success as a businessman.
"I understand that I can get this country on track again," Romney said as his final word. "We don’t have to settle for what we’re going through. 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.
"If I become president, I’ll get America working again. I will get us on track to a balanced budget."
Obama in turn defended his record on free enterprise.
"I believe in self-reliance and individual initiative and risk-takers being rewarded. But I also believe that everybody should have a fair shot and everybody should do their fair share and everybody should play by the same rules, because that’s how our economy is grown. That’s how we built the world’s greatest middle class.
"But I also believe that when (Romney) said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considers themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility — think about who he was talking about: folks on Social Security who’ve worked all their lives, veterans who’ve sacrificed for this country, students who are out there trying to, hopefully, advance their own dreams, but also this country’s dreams, soldiers who are overseas fighting for us right now, people who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas taxes, but don’t make enough income.
"And I want to fight for them. That’s what I’ve been doing for the last four years, because if they succeed, I believe the country succeeds."