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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Nassau takes national stage in Hofstra debate

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the presidential debate in Mack Arena at Hofstra University. (Oct. 16, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

The road to election caromed through Nassau County Tuesday night as President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney fought each other and the moderator before a town-hall-style gathering of Nassau residents.

Taxes, jobs, energy, small business, immigration, gun control and the assault on an American consulate.

The highs were hit in Tuesday night's debate, which, for the first time, put Nassau residents between the candidates and their quest to connect with a national audience.

Too bad the locals didn't get more to say.

Instead, much of the debate, no, make that a brawl, was between Romney and Obama and moderator Candy Crowley.

The candidates did make their pitch for the middle class, mostly in answer to one woman's question about taxes. By halfway through the debate, Romney had mentioned the middle class -- by my informal count -- 14 times; Obama six times.

But the residents who came bearing questions asked some pretty good ones, putting immigration, equal pay for women and contraception on the table for the first time in a debate.

One of the big divides was on the issue of immigration.

"What do you plan on doing with immigrants without their green cards that are currently living here as productive members of society," asked one questioner, Lorraine Osorio.

"We're going to have to stop illegal immigration," Romney said in part of his answer. "There are 4 million people who are waiting in line to get here legally," he said. "So I will not grant amnesty to those who have come here illegally."

Obama took another approach: "If we are going to go after folks who are here illegally, we should do it smartly and go after folks who are criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community," he said. "Not after students, not after folks who are here because they are trying to figure out how to feed their families."

Michael Jones told Obama he was not as optimistic about the president as he was four years ago. "Most things I need for everyday living are very expensive," he said.

Obama acknowledged that he didn't do all that he's planned, but said, essentially, that he would try harder.

Romney was even blunter, "I think you know that these last four years haven't been so good," he said. "If you were to elect President Obama, you know what you are going to get."

Mary Follano wanted to know about taxes.

"I want to simplify the tax code and I want to get middle-income taxpayers to have lower taxes," Romney answered.

"I want to give middle-class families and folks who are striving to get into the middle class some relief," Obama said. "Because they have been hard hit over the past decade, over the last 15, over the last 20 years."

Too bad the questioners couldn't get more questions. And too bad the candidates couldn't get more fruitful answers.

If Long Island were a state, it would be bigger than 21 other states. And in this tight political campaign between Obama and Romney, it would be a war state. An angry war state.

Nassau residents have been smothered by high taxes, significant job losses and a county on the edge of insolvency years before other municipalities felt the squeeze.

"We expect answers and we expect results," Robert Zimmerman, a national Democratic committee member, said before the debate.

We got some, but not nearly enough Tuesday night.

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