DENVER – Perhaps the only thing President Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney agreed on over the course of Tuesday night’s Presidential Debate was that the last four years have been difficult for most Americans.
“The reason I want middle-income taxpayers to have lower taxes is because middle-income taxpayers have been buried over the past four years” Mr. Romney said, paraphrasing Vice-President Joe Biden.
“[W]e’ve gone through a tough four years. There’s no doubt about it,” Mr. Obama conceded.
Beyond that, the two men agreed on little as they squared off for a second debate just one day after a new Gallup poll showed Mr. Romney neck and neck with Mr. Obama among swing-state women.
As expected, Mr. Obama relied on familiar populist class-warfare themes as he fought for his political life against the resurgent Mr. Romney.
“[W]hen he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about,” said Mr. Obama in a reference to ham-handed comments Mr. Romney made in May.
“We’ve seen 30 consecutive — 31 consecutive months of job growth; 5.2 million new jobs created. And the plans that I talked about will create even more,” Mr. Obama continued.
But Mr. Obama’s GOP challenger came to the debate armed with numbers of his own.
“We just can’t afford four more years like the last four years,” said Mr. Romney. “[Mr. Obama] said that by now we’d have unemployment at 5.4 percent. The difference between where it is [now] and 5.4 percent is 9 million Americans without work.”
“[President Obama] said that he’d cut the deficit in half. He hasn’t done that,” Romney continued. “In fact, he doubled it.”
“[Mr. Obama] keeps saying, ‘Look, I’ve created 5 million jobs.’ That’s after losing 5 million jobs. The entire record is such that the unemployment has not been reduced in this country…the number of people who are still looking for work, is still 23 million Americans,” Romney added.
Mr. Obama, who has come under fire for steering federal subsidies to politically connected green energy firms over the last four years, found himself in the almost surreal position Tuesday night of claiming to be a champion of oil and gas drilling.
“We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years,” said Mr, Obama. “Natural gas production is the highest it’s been in decades.”
Mr. Romney countered that the claim was disingenuous.
“[T]he president’s right in terms of the additional oil production, but none of it came on federal land. As a matter of fact, oil production is down 14 percent this year on federal land, and gas production was down 9 percent…In the last four years, [Mr. Obama] cut permits and licenses on federal land and federal waters in half.”
“Not true, Governor Romney,” Obama protested.
In fact President Obama’s own Energy Information Administration reported earlier this year that oil production on federal lands fell by 14 percent – from 726 million barrels in 2010 to 626 million barrels in 2011.
The two candidates also traded barbs on immigration, a domestic issue that received little attention during the first debate.
“What I’ve said is we need to fix a broken immigration system,” said Mr. Obama, adding that America is “a nation of laws.”
Mr. Obama did not explicitly mention the Executive Order he issued this summer that effectively provided de facto amnesty for some younger illegal aliens, a policy many have criticized as an end-run around Congress and existing immigration laws.
The President also failed to explain why he did not seek to pass an immigration bill during the first half of his term, when he enjoyed a filibuster-proof, Democratic supermajority in Congress.
For his part, Mr. Romney argued that it would be unfair to grant amnesty to illegal aliens when millions of people around the world are waiting in line at U.S. embassies and consulates to immigrate to the United States legally.
“There are 4 million people who are waiting in line to get here legally,” said Mr. Romney. “So I will not grant amnesty to those who have come here illegally.”
Both candidates held their own during the debate, according to a post-debate CNN/ORC poll.
Respondents gave Obama a narrow edge when asked who won the debate, with 46 percent of those polled declaring the President the winner, compared to 39 for Mr. Romney. But those polled gave Mr. Romney high marks as well.
Romney scored wins on which candidate would be a better leader (49-46 percent), who would do a better job handling the economy (58-40 percent), and who would do a better job handling the federal deficit (59-36 percent).
And those polled were evenly split on the question of who the debate made them more likely to vote for, 25 percent to 25 percent.
“Don’t expect this to change the dynamics of the race,” said Democrat strategist Joe Trippi, a Fox News contributor and former campaign manager for Howard Dean. “[E]nthusiasm could be the difference maker on November 6.”