Romney gave no ground, pushing back hard against Obama and largely repeating his successful performance in Denver on Oct. 3, analysts said.
American University speech professor Robert Lehrman said, "Romney did not get worse, but Obama got a lot better. He was willing to go on the attack. He was armed with a lot of concrete details."
The red-carpeted stage was set at Hofstra University's Mack Sports Complex for a bruising clash between both candidates. They delivered by pivoting from their answers, to undecided Nassau County voters, to attacks on each other.
With only a stool and table for each, they roamed the stage to answer questions from the audience. But they also squared off, talking over each other and ignoring the moderator.
Once again, the candidates laid out sharply divergent paths for where they would take the country over the next four years, and in doing so they stoked partisans in their parties who support them.
Minutes after the second presidential debate began, Obama took a jab at Romney for denying that he had said U.S. automakers should go through bankruptcy.
"Candy," Obama said to the moderator, CNN anchor Candy Crowley, "what Gov. Romney just said isn't true."
It was a signal that Obama wasn't going to repeat the lackluster performance of the first debate on Oct. 3 in Denver that tripped up a campaign whose lead in the polls back then was at 5 points and growing.
But Romney gave no quarter Tuesday night.
"This is a president who has not been able to do what he said he'd do," Romney said.
Romney ticked off what he called Obama's promises made but not delivered, including lowering unemployment to 5.4 percent when it's 7.8 percent and cutting the federal deficit in half when it has tripled since he took office.
Since Obama was subpar in the first debate, and with polls at a virtual tie, the president worked to ratchet up his performance Tuesday night, and it showed as he and Romney paced the red carpet answering questions.
The president, however, ran into a determined Romney, who was as aggressive as in his victory in Denver.
Both hit their marks and no one scored a decisive victory, giving hope and solace to the partisans on each side as they look ahead to the campaigns' last three weeks, analysts said.
Democratic National Committeeman Robert Zimmerman, owner of a Great Neck public relations firm, said "Barack Obama is back, and the commonsense questions from Nassau County residents put Barack Obama back in charge."
"I thought this was the most interesting debate I have ever seen," said Lehrman, a speechwriter for Democratic candidates. "It was the most direct confrontation between two people. It was substantive."
Lehrman added, "I thought it was great to see them actually argue with each other."
And argue they did.
At one point, they talked over each other, with Crowley futilely trying to restore order.