President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney went head-to-head in the second presidential debate in Hempstead, New York. (Photo: Timothy A. ClaryAFP/Getty Images))

President Obama comes out swinging in second, lively presidential debate

HEMPSTEAD, NY – Democrats wanted President Obama to be energetic and go head to head with Governor Mitt Romney, and President Obama delivered — the presidential candidates sparred in a feisty, sometimes testy, but never boring debate tonight at Hofstra University in Long Island.  The candidates were asked questions by a group of undecided voters, and Obama and Romney were asked about everything from taxes to immigration to women’s pay equity to whether college students will get a job when they graduate.  The verdict?

“President Obama was certainly the more aggressive and ‘presidential’ of the two in this debate,” says University of Maryland political scientist Stella Rouse.  “Looking at it objectively, Obama did not take it by a landslide, but he took on Romney more, and Romney  seemed more on the defensive, going back to a subject two questions after a topic was first answered,” says Rouse.  “I thought Obama was more balanced in his tone and mannerism,” Rouse adds.

Many Latinos were hoping the candidates would finally talk about immigration, and it happened. Governor Romney was asked what he would do with undocumented immigrants living here.  Governor Romney said he “does not want more illegal immigrants,” and said that he would not support amnesty, nor would he give undocumented immigrants drivers’ licenses.  Romney also said he had not called Arizona a model for the nation, saying he meant e-verify was the model.

President Obama countered Romney’s statement saying Romney had indeed called Arizona a model, proof being that SB1070 author Kris Kobach was one of his campaign advisors, and said Romney called for ‘self-deportation.’ Governor Romney then answered the question on self-deportation, calling it a ‘choice”  and an act of ‘free will,’ comments which elicited a scathing criticism from Latino Democrats.

“You’re going to give people a “choice” to self-deport?” said Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez. “That is an insult to tell people who are suffering in this country,” says Velazquez.

And Democratic Congressman Xavier Becerra said Governor Romney called undocumented immigrants “illegals,” whereas Obama uses the word ‘undocumented.’  “As a son of immigrants, to know they are respected as humans is very important — Mitt Romney called them illegals, illegals, illegals,” says Becerra. “No one wants to believe their humanity is any less.”

Northern Arizona University political scientist and NBC Latino contributor Stephen Nuno says, “it was about time the debates addressed the immigration issue,” then adds that “the difference between the two on their commitments to address the issue of undocumented immigrants couldn’t be more stark, and Romney’s plan is an illustration of how far out of touch the core of Republicans are on the issue.”

Juntos con Romney co-chair Carlos Gutierrez disagrees, saying Governor Romney did a good job of highlighting the fact that President Obama did not get immigration legislation passed. “I think Romney did a great job, he was able to show he has a mastery of numbers and put the President on the spot a few times,” says Gutierrez.

Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio said in a statement that “the president couldn’t explain to the American people how the next four years would be better than the last,” adding that Romney showed he “has a plan to restore our economy.”

But DNCC chair and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said Obama “dominated” the debate. “If this was a football game, Obama won in the first quarter,” he says. “It was a knockout, because apart from Obama’s performance, it was the first time a moderator fact-checked a candidate on the spot,” says Villaraigosa, referring to the instance when moderator Candy Crowley corrected Governor Romney on the fact that Obama did say the Libya attack was an act of terror, which Romney refuted.

Unlike the previous debate, Obama was more forceful in countering Governor Romney’s remarks, which led to a more feisty tone. Romney said that he gets characterized as not doing the numbers, but that he did numbers and budgets in all his previous jobs and as Governor of Massachusetts. He tried to portray the President as weak on defense and in the Middle East. Obama, on the other hand, accused Romney of not supporting women’s health coverage, which he called an “economic issue,” and on not defending the Lily Ledbeter Bill for equal pay, which Obama supported.  The candidates also had to explain their views on gun control, as well as their plans to help the unemployed and garner more jobs.

The candidates face their final debate in Boca Raton, Florida next Tuesday, where the discussion will heavily focus on foreign policy. Judging from the body language here in Hempstead and the ‘lively’ exchange, the third and final debate promises to be anything but calm — or boring.

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