HEMSTEAD, N.Y. — In his debate with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, President Barack Obama came out swinging — almost literally. And Romney fought back.
What was supposed to be an amicable exchange of ideas with undecided voters nearly collapsed as the candidates turned their backs on the audience and confronted one another, sometimes angrily.
“This was a boxing match. This was heavyweight. This was Frazier-Ali. Even the stage was sort of like an arena, a ring where they circled each other,” conservative Charles Krauthammer told Fox News. “At one point, I thought they were going to use their mics as weapons and it was going to turn into the Taiwanese parliament.”
Former Bush White House spokesperson Ari Fleischer called the showdown “a flat-out draw” in which the president failed to knock out his challenger.
“The governor was extremely effective at making the litany, in that soft-spoken way, of all the things President Obama promised but failed to do — such as cut the deficit in half, etc. The president was very good … at punching back at Romney’s record. But what the president never did — and this is where I give the edge to Mitt Romney — he didn’t talk about the future. He did not talk about his specific plans for what he will do in a second term because he doesn’t have any.”
Watchdog reporters asked regular Americans across the country what they made of the Hostility at Hofstra University.
Dale Kaplan, Kaplan’s Careful Cleaners
Camp Hill, Pa.
The central topic pulling many voters in this election, the economy, weaved its way into the debate throughout the night through job creation and tax reform policies.
For those who work in business, Romney presented a much clearer vision for the future of the economy.
One Pennsylvania business owner, Dale Kaplan, said under President Barack Obama, the Environmental Protection Agency has been passing too much regulations on the chemical industry.
Kaplan runs Kaplan’s Careful Cleaners in Camp Hill, Pa.
“I spent seven to 10 hours a week filling out local, state and federal regulations,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan said, at this point, he’s not willing to invest in new jobs because of what he’s seen the Obama administration doing. He described Romney as “much more capable” than the current president.
Kaplan also took note of a question that stood out from many others — equality for women in the workplace. It’s a debate he’s heard before, Kaplan said, but he doesn’t see it as an issue for his business.
“In my industry, in the dry cleaning business, if I didn’t pay women and men on an equal basis,” he said. “I wouldn’t be in business.”
Warren Hudak, a New Cumberland-based accountant, said many of his 600-odd clients are uncertain about the risks they’re going to take in the future.
He said Romney’s specifics about his tax plan were encouraging for the average business owner, and would provide certainty.
“This debate really galvanized that, and really showed through that is what he represents,” Hudak said.
— Melissa Daniels, PA Independent
Amir Busnov, immigrant and veteran
Des Moines, Iowa
Little time during the 90-minute debate was spent on foreign policies, something that surprised Amir Busnov, a 40-year-old Des Moines resident who immigrated from Bosnia and served two consecutive tours in Iraq and another this year in Afghanistan.
Libya and the Obama administration’s response to the terrorist attack dominated much of the foreign policy talk. Busnov, who earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in international relations from Drake University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, defended the president’s actions and the two weeks it took for the incident to be declared a terrorist attack.
“The entire Arab world is engulfed in this uprising in the past two years,” said Busnov, who became a U.S. citizen in 2002 when he entered the National Guard. “Each of those countries cannot be generalized. Libya is a different society than Egypt. Yemen is a different society. Each has so many subtle differences. When Romney said it took the president two weeks to figure out what was going on. We are not godlike creatures. You cannot know what was going to happen in Libya.
“That is part of his truth and wisdom,” he added.
Busnov recognized Romney’s achievements in business but pointed out his blunders outside of his country, especially during a 10-day tour of Europe. During the debate, Busnov said he found Romney’s stance on aggressively going after China troubling, especially given America’s financial ties to the country.
“You cannot confront one of the strongest militaries and countries and go in and just say, ‘I’m going to get tough on you,’ ” Busnov said. “That’s irresponsible. The president has been pushing copyright issues for the longest time and currency issues as well. And he has been trying to put together a coalition for years in the case that things go rough with China we have a backup for it. The president is getting tough on China.”
— Sheena Dooley, Iowa Watchdog
Mike Berigan, senior vice president, QinetiQ
Mitt Romney took another shot at the president over the attack on the U.S. embassy in Libya. But Mike Berigan, senior vice president at QinetiQ, a defense contractor in Fredericksburg, Va., said there was no clear winner in what became a feisty exchange.
“I don’t know why it’s such a big deal that the administration didn’t go public right away that it was likely a terrorist attack. There are legitimate reasons to keep stuff like that close,” said Berigan, whose company supplies products and services to the Defense Department, Homeland Security and NASA.
Moderator Candy Crowley won a smattering of applause when she affirmed the president’s claim that, a day after the deadly embassy attack he labeled it a “terrorist act.”
But the dispute simmered as Romney again charged Obama with “leading from behind.”
“More troubling (was) on the day following the assassination of the U.S. ambassador, the president flies to Las Vegas for a political fund-raiser and then to Colorado for another event,” the former Massachusetts governor said.
“It was very clear this was an attack — it calls into question the president’s whole policy in Syria, Egypt and now Libya.”
— Kenric Ward, Watchdog.org Virginia bureau
Andrew Johnson, father
Andrew Johnson of Mayville, Wis., was forced to greet a coffin coming home.
His son, U.S. Army 1st Lt. David Johnson, was killed in action in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, earlier this year, the victim of a detonated improvised explosive device.
Johnson said the candidates didn’t talk enough about foreign policy to “make any sense of it.”
He, like so many parents of the more than 2,000 service members who have been killed in Afghanistan since the war began 11 years ago, said he wants U.S. troops home, and fast.
Asked what he wants to see in U.S. foreign policy, Johnson said he wants a U.S. that stays out of wars through maintaining a strong defense.
“I think we need to hunt down our enemies wherever we are, because they are not going to stop,” Johnson said.
— M.D. Kittle, Wisconsin Reporter
Gene Jones, founder and president, Florida Veterans for Common Sense
Focus on foreign policy was light in the second presidential debate, but it didn’t stop some mention of the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East, including the attacks on the embassy in Libya and the drawdown of troops in Afghanistan.
“We’d like to see both candidates calling for an immediate withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan,” said Gene Jones, founder and president of Florida Veterans for Common Sense, an anti-war veterans group based in Sarasota. “That conflict is counter-productive at this point and it’s not worth the death of another soldier.”
Jones said he was not impressed by either candidate, but saved special scorn for GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s budget plan, which he sees as nothing more than an empty promise.
“Mitt Romney has an unrealistic proposal for the defense budget,” said Jones. “There’s no way he can balance the budget by increasing defense spending unless he’s going to increase taxes. His program is magical thinking.”
Jones, however, doesn’t pull punches when it comes to President Obama either, the Democratic incumbent, whom he said didn’t speak to anything significant in the second debate.
“President Obama should not have instigated the surge in Afghanistan. We thought it would be counterproductive and a waste of lives and resources, which it has turned out to be,” Jones said. “We need to get our troops home, no matter what administration is in power.
“There’s a reason that people overseas, particularly in Muslim countries, hate us. They hate us and attack us because we invaded Iraq contrary to international law. We also continue to station troops in the Middle East and we continue to occupy Afghanistan. We’re going to continue to get attacked as long as we do that.”
— Yael Ossowski, Florida Watchdog
Jack Werner, owner, A to Z Inspections
Jack Werner, owners of the residential and commercial property inspection company A to Z Inspections in Oklahoma City, says his business is doing better today than four years ago.
Werner, a self-described hard-working man who frequently turns in 12- to 14-hour days, said he saw something promising from both candidates.
“I like the fact Romney did well in continually going back and reminded us of his five-point plan to reduce the deficit, increase manufacturing jobs, deal with China, and encourage entrepreneurial and small business growth and balance the budget. Especially in energy independence. I thought he was a little bit stronger than Obama was on economic issues,” he said.
But Werner said he’s more liberal socially, so he leans a bit toward Obama on those issues.
I felt Obama won on social issues — illegal immigrants and women’s issues,” he said. “I will not support a president that tries to hammer illegal immigrants. I think Obama won on that issue. But I do believe in sending criminals and troublemakers home, and I don’t think anyone would disagree with me.”
— Stacy Martin, Oklahoma Watchdog
Deb Sommer, librarian
Deb Sommer is frustrated.
Sommer, 56, is a librarian in Metropolis, a town of 6,500 on the Ohio River in deep southern Illinois. She lives in coal country, where unemployment stands at 9 percent. Her family farms for a living, so it’s affected by the global market, and there are active military servicemen in her family. Politically, she leans to the left.
Neither candidate – not Obama nor Mitt Romney – has delivered the kind of details and straight talk that Sommer craves.
“I was really hoping I would hear something new,” she said. “The lack of job growth is terribly distressing. And maybe I misunderstood Romney at the end. He said it two times: government does not create jobs. Well then why does he also say he’ll do a better job creating jobs when he’s president? I just don’t understand.
“But there is stuff Obama said that wasn’t true either, or at least was misleading.”
The lackluster debate and candidates’ unwillingness to directly answer questions were particularly frustrating for Sommer.
“It concerns me. I feel like I’m pretty well informed, and if I hear something that doesn’t seem quite right I’m going to research it, but what concerns me are the people who can’t or won’t do that. My poor mother doesn’t know what she’s going to do.”
– Jayette Bolinski, Illinios Watchdog