No matter how evenly-matched Tuesday night's presidential debate at Hofstra University was, President Barack Obama's recovery from his disengaged performance in the first debate surely made him the winner. He mentioned Romney's "47%" comments, which he conspicuously left out of the first debate, and he was more aggressive in responding to his opponent's perceived mischaracterizations.
Romney, for his part, showed consistency in staying on-message and took every possible opportunity to present his five-point economic plan to the American people, maintaining his composure and standing his ground when interrupted or challenged.
The undecided voters in the audience were the real stars of this debate, bringing up issues such as gun control, women's rights and immigration in their questions, topics which were hardly addressed in either the first debate or last week's showdown between the vice presidential candidates.
With the most heated exchange centering around the Obama administration's response to the attack on the Libyan consulate that resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens last month, the final presidential debate next week, which focuses on foreign policy, should provide plenty of fireworks in the final run-up to the election on Nov. 6.
Read updates from tonight's debate as it happened below, and check out the latest photos from Hofstra. Mobile users, visit newsday.com/elections for the latest multimedia.
Candy Crowley thanks the candidates and reminds people to vote as Ann Romney and Michelle Obama join their husbands on stage. There are no final words from one candidate to the other -- it's clear their relationship is not very warm.
Obama's turn to answer, and he says there is a mistaken perception that he believes that government creates jobs and therefore is responsible for taking care of people. He says that he believes in free enterprise and the power of the market.
However, Obama says, the government must provide a level playing field. Here he refers to Romney's "behind closed doors” comments about how 47% of Americans just want handouts. He doesn't agree, and that will be the last word in the 2012 Hofstra debate.
The last question from the audience is a personal one, asking what the biggest misconception about each candidate is.
Romney says the perception is that he doesn't care about people, but that is a misconception. He says he cares about people, that he believes in God, that he served on a mission abroad.
He refers to both sitting across the table from unemployed people to help them and to stepping in to help the struggling Olympics.
He moves on to policy, saying one last time what he will do to reinvigorate the economy.
Crowley's follow up asks bluntly, how do you persuade a top American company like Apple to keep production here.
Romney says we can compete with anyone when the playing field is level.
Obama says that some jobs are not going to come back, and that's OK. Instead of focusing on low-skill jobs moving to China, we should focus on higher-wage and higher-skilled jobs that will help grow the American economy.
Obama now says that he agrees with Romney, but they disagree on how to do it. Instead of attacking China's policies, Obama says he will eliminate loopholes in the tax code that provide incentives for companies to keep their money overseas and to operate their business overseas and not pay taxes on the profits.
He says the way to increase jobs here is to double our exports, which we are on the road to doing. Obama points to trade deals that benefit Americans that he has put into place in his first administration.
Next question, and possibly the last, from Carol Goldberg, is about outsourcing. How do we keep jobs in the United States?
Romney answers first, pointing to a business climate that causes companies to move to other countries. He says he will make a friendlier business climate for entrepreneurs and small businesses to keep jobs here.
He also takes another swipe at China, whose "cheating” policies are also a factor in attracting companies to set up shop there.
Obama's take on it? Romney used to be for it, now is against it, because he sought the nomination of the Republican party.
"I'm not in favor of new legislation on guns," Romney says.
He points to the fact that what is most important is to change the culture of violence in this country. He says that people should get married before having children, because two-parent families tend to be less poor and less involved in crime.
Romney, inevitably, turns the conversation to the "fast and furious” plan that involved selling weapons to criminals in Mexico. He asks why this plan was put through, and says Obama has used executive privilege to prevent information from coming out about it.
Obama responds that while his administration fully supports the Second Amendment, he has had "too many moments” in his first administration where he had to comfort the families of mass shootings, most recently in Aurora, Colo.
He says we need to enforce the laws we have, keep weapons out of the hands of mentally disabled people, and he agrees with Gonzalez that weapons designed for soldiers shouldn't be available to civilians.
Obama believes in an assault-weapons ban, he says, but notes that the problem is also due to cheap handguns, so we need a comprehensive strategy.
Nina Gonzalez now asks the next question, about gun control. "What will you do to limit the availability of assault weapons?"
Time is winding down, and it's clear that both candidates are concerned about getting their points across in the remaining time.
Obama responds that since he is president, he is the one who ultimately takes responsibility.
He says he is offended about Romney's intimation that Obama's staff was playing politics with the announcement of what exactly happened in Benghazi.
Romney, talking about Libya, points to the confusion over whether the attack was a protest or a terrorist attack. He critiques the administration's slowness in telling the American people a straight answer.
He then critiques Obama's attending fundraisers in the days after the attack, saying these things a president does "have symbolic value."
Romney expands to talk about Middle East policy, accusing Obama of taking an "apology tour” through the region at the beginning of his administration, and that we are seeing the effects of those policies now.
Next question, from Kerry Ladka. He asks about the recent controversy over whether the Libyan embassy knew about the threats leading up to the attack last month that killed ambassador Stevens.
Obama, as commander-in-chief, says he is concerned about security everywhere. He says that in response to the attacks he has initiated a full and complete investigation of how things happened and how to punish those who perpetrated the attack.
Obama then points to Romney's statement at the time, "trying to score political points” while the administration was trying to figure out what was happening.
"When it comes to foreign policy," Obama says, "I mean what I say."
"I am accountable," he says. "I am the one who greets those coffins when they come home."
Romney takes an opportunity to address the earlier statement that Obama made about Romney's investments in China. He says he has blind trusts and he doesn't control where they invest, asking Obama when the last time he looked at HIS pension was.
"Well, my pension isn't as big as yours," he says in response.
Romney now talks about immigration, calling attention to the fact that when Obama took office he promised to put together an immigration bill in his first year. He argues that Obama didn't do that and has never offered an explanation why.
Romney now recharacterizes the idea of "self-deportation” as a matter of choice, that immigrants should be able to choose for themselves.
Obama now talks about how he wants to fix the immigration laws. He says he has done many things that he can, but that Congress has not pulled its weight.
He is clear that immigration is good for the economy and that he is not looking to send people away who are trying to feed their families. He says we need a smart immigration policy that targets criminals and "gangbangers," not everyone who doesn't have the right papers.
He also challenges Romney's assertion that Obama didn't try on this issue. He says that congressional Republicans have not been able to come out in support of such an immigration policy when their leader (by that he means Romney) is not for it.
Moving to illegal immigration, Romney says he would crack down harder on illegal immigrants, not allowing them to obtain driver's licenses. He says he will have an employment verification system that doesn't allow employers to hire illegal immigrants.
9 :59 p.m.
Candy Crowley changes gears, leading into the next question from Lorraine Osorio that asks about the candidates' policies on immigration.
Romney answers first: "we welcome legal immigrants to this country," he says.
He focuses on the legal system surrounding immigration, that it needs to be simplified. He says you shouldn't need a lawyer to come into this country.
He cites people who are still looking for work, the number of people in poverty and on food stamps, the slowing growth of the economy.
"The president wants to do well, I understand," he says, "but his policies have not let the economy take off like it should have."
He cites the Reagan recovery, which was more successful in restoring growth and employment.
Romney tries to contain his enthusiasm at this question. "I think you know better," he tells Jones.
He talks about the plans Obama had when elected, such as to deal with immigration.
"This is a president who hasn't been able to do what he said he'd do," Romney says.
Michael Jones asks the next question, saying that he voted for Obama last time but has lost faith. What will Obama do to win him back?
"It's not for lack of trying," he says.
Obama takes on the question and uses the opportunity to challenge many of those assertions. He says that despite Romney's tough talk about China, Romney has investments in many Chinese interests and others in countries with questionable trade practices. He also says he has signed new trade agreements since he took office.
Now Obama describes the ways Romney is different from George W. Bush. Bush didn't want to turn Medicare into a voucher, like Romney does, and George W. Bush didn't believe in self-deportation, as Romney does.
Romney uses the first part of his time to insist he doesn't think bureaucrats should tell women when they can use contraceptives.
He then talks about energy policy as a first distinction from George W. Bush. He says he will get tough on China, which Bush didn't. He says he will promote trade with Latin America, which Bush did not. Fourth, he will reduce the deficit, which Bush didn't. Finally, and the fifth point of his five-point plan, is to support small businesses, which apparently George Bush did not do well.
Next question from Susan Katz, who asks Romney what the biggest differences are between the candidate and George W. Bush, who she says she blames for many problems facing the country today.
Obama now addresses the question again, and takes the opportunity to talk about health care for women. He says Romney is comfortable with Washington bureaucrats making health decisions for women.
He adds that it's not only a health issue, but it's an economic issue. Services like Planned Parenthood, he says, which Mitt Romney wants to cut funding for, not only provide health care but they help peoples' pocketbooks as well.
Obama goes back to talking about college costs to address how making it easier for women to go to college helps their earning potential later in life.
Romney then takes center stage and tells a story about hiring someone for the governor's office in Massachusetts. He says he went out specifically to find qualified women after getting a binder of candidates that were all men.
"I recognize that if you're going to have more women in the workplace," Romney says, "our standards have to be more flexible."
Next question, from Katherine Fenton, is about women in the workplace. Obama will be the first to answer.
Obama tells the story of Lilly Ledbetter, which he has told many times before, who worked the same job as a man and got paid less.
"Women are increasingly the breadwinners," Obama says. "This is a family issue .?.?. and we've got to fight for it."
Crowley asks Romney that, in case his purported savings don't mathematically work out, if he would reconsider his plan.
Romney responds fervently that the math will add up. "The math that doesn't add up," Romney says, "is the $4 trillion the president has added to the deficit."
He says Obama is taking us on a path to Greece. Romney, who cites experience as governor and director of the Olympics, says he knows how to balance budgets.
Crowley's follow-up to Obama asks if he is satisfied with Romney's assertion that he will not cut taxes on the wealthy.
Unsurprisingly, Obama is not satisfied. He rattles off a long list of other tax cuts that Romney proposes such as estate taxes, that benefit the wealthy and will increase the deficit.
"We haven't heard anything specific from Gov. Romney except for Big Bird and Planned Parenthood," saying his opponent hadn't yet explained how he would pay for those cuts.
Romney follows up on the tax question, talking about reducing rates on small businesses. That way, he says, they can hire more people.
He rattles off some troubling unemployment and poverty statistics, insisting "we don't have to live like this.”
Obama's turn to talk taxes, and he points to his record of tax cuts for middle class families and small business.
"If we're serious about reducing the deficit," he says, "we need to make sure the wealthy do a little more."
He then talks about the larger tax policies that he believes improve the economy. He insists that those deductions don't just add to the deficit, rather, they are important ways to grow the economy.
Romney talks about how is tax plan involves simplifying the tax code, but insists that it doesn't lower rates for everyone.
He says wealthy people will continue to pay the same share of taxes they currently do, citing 60% of the total.
He says that middle-income Americans will get a tax break, saying he will preserve the deductions.
Next question come from Mary Eileen Follano, and she asks about taxes. She cites the mortgage interest deduction and child care credits, among others, that people benefit from.
Romney will be the first to answer.
Romney says he doesn't think the American people will believe that Obama is able to keep energy prices low, because prices have risen in the past four years.
Obama takes his turn to address the follow-up.
He says, in response to Romney's support of the Keystone pipeline, that we have built enough pipeline to wrap around the Earth, but that we need to work on the other side of the equation to develop renewable sources.
Romney, taking his turn, accuses Obama of cutting permits for energy resources. Obama interrupts him and the two get into their most direct confrontation yet. Both standing up, sharing the stage.
Obama answers that the new energy sources we have are those that his administration has encouraged. He also digs at Romney's assertion that he supports coal energy with a story of when Romney was governor of Massachusetts and closed down a coal plant, complaining of pollution.
9 :16 p.m.
Crowley's follow-up for Obama is whether he thinks higher prices at the pump are the "new normal.”
Romney challenges Obama's energy policies in the last four years, with statistics about reducing oil drilling on federal lands and waters.
"What we don't need is a president keeping us from developing our oil, coal and gas," Romney says. "This president has not been Mr. Oil, Mr. Coal, Mr. Gas."
"If we do what I'm planning on doing," Romney says, "you're going to see manufacturing jobs come back."
He adds, unwittingly praising Obama, that those manufacturing jobs are already coming back.
Next question comes from an audience member asking about energy policy. Obama answers first.
He talks about efforts to keep gas prices low by developing alternate sources of energy like natural gas.
Obama then describes Romney's energy policy as one written by oil companies.
Obama channels Biden, insisting that Romney's answer was totally false.
"Governor Romney doesn't have a 5-point plan, he has a 1-point plan," he says, "and that's to have folks at the top play by a different set of rules."
Crowley's follow-up question, about how to increase job prospects for people now, rather than when they graduate in two years, goes first to Romney.
Before answering, Romney contests Obama's remark that he wanted to let GM fail, insisting that Obama's policies have caused a lot of companies to fail.
Obama's turn to answer, and he starts off talking about the importance of creating jobs in the United States, a dig at the jobs created overseas by American corporations.
He then talks about the kinds of jobs he wants to create for college graduates, referring to the steps his administration has taken to support green jobs.
Obama then refers to his belief in increasing taxes on the wealthy to help the economy.
"Let's take the money we've been spending on war and use it to rebuild America," he says.
Mitt Romney, winner of the pre-debate coin toss, answers first. He begins speaking of his own difficulty repaying his student loans, and outlines the first aspect of his plan, which is to make college more affordable.
Romney then pivots to talk about the economy, insisting that his policies will improve the economy and create more opportunities for graduates like him.
Crowley going over the rules as Obama and Romney come on stage and shake hands. There are no podiums tonight, both candidates are sitting on stools.
The first question, is from Jeremy Epstein, a 20-year-old college student. He asks the candidates to reassure him, and his parents, that he will have job opportunities after he graduates.
Candy Crowley has arrived. We are now just waiting for the candidates to take the stage.
Perhaps because of Crowley's intended approach to moderating tonight, we're likely to only hear 12-15 questions from the audience.
In case you didn't know, the questioners were chosen by the Gallup organization, with 80 or so in the audience who have been identified as uncommitted voters.
Crowley, for her part, has insisted that she will play an active role in asking follow-up questions and pressing candidates to clarify their responses when she feels that is appropriate. Martha Raddatz, who moderated Thursday's vice presidential debate, earned widespread praise for doing just that.
Tonight Candy Crowley becomes the first woman to moderate a presidential debate since Carole Simpson did so in 1992, when she was the first woman (and first minority) to moderate a presidential debate.
She moderated a similar town-hall style debate among incumbent President George Bush (senior), Bill Clinton, and H. Ross Perot. She was permitted to call time and ask follow-ups, but little more. At the time she complained about her limited role, and since then she has complained that the first woman moderator since her own turn at the mic is taking place once again in a town-hall format that limits the moderator's role.
Good evening, all. Things are warming up at Hofstra University as we wait for the 2012 Hofstra presidential debate to get under way.