Published December 23, 2015
President Obama bolted out of the second presidential debate after employing a strategy he's used to great effect on the stump -- the power of nope.
The words "not true" were a frequent rejoinder for the president, as he took pains to rebut as many Mitt Romney claims as he could, even if only by slipping in those two words. It's something the president didn't do in his first debate, and the campaign signaled going into the second that Obama would be far more aggressive.
The result was a 90-minute confrontation, where Obama and Romney paced around each other, engaged each other and frequently cut off the moderator to finish their points.
At one point, Obama even looked to the moderator to back him up after -- in an unusual moment -- she corrected Romney in saying the president referred to "acts of terror" the day after the Libya consulate attack.
"Can you say that a little louder, Candy?" the president asked Candy Crowley.
Romney gave as good as he got, bickering with the moderator and Obama about the ground rules, and challenging the president on his facts as well. But Romney's demeanor was largely similar to that during the first debate.
Obama's was more assertive, and clearly aimed at reviving his poll numbers after they took a dive following their Oct. 3 debate debut. The race now becomes a battle for the message going into the final debate, and after that the election.
Obama tried to dominate that the message wars at Hofstra University by shooting down Romney's claims, again and again.
In an early exchange, the two quarreled over Romney's claim that oil and gas leases and permits on federal lands and waters decreased by half during Obama's term.
"Not true, Governor Romney," Obama said. "Not true."
Romney was exaggerating a bit. According to Bureau of Land Management figures, the number of new leases fell by roughly 42 percent in Obama's first three years in office, compared with the number in the last three years of the George W. Bush administration.
Obama, though, didn't acknowledge any decrease in between the claims of "not true." Instead, he explained that he just wanted to take away leases for companies that weren't using them and then put them out again elsewhere.
Obama also said "not true" when he was accused of dropping the ball on comprehensive immigration reform.
The strategy follows Obama claiming repeatedly on the stump in the wake of the opening debate that Romney was not being forthright with the American people.
His move to take a more aggressive debate approach comes as a slew of national and battleground polls show Romney closing in on the president and in some cases surpassing him.
With just one debate left on the calendar, the candidates are focusing their energy on a handful of vital swing states. Obama is campaigning in Iowa and later Ohio on Wednesday afternoon, while Romney is spending the day in Virginia.
The two candidates frequently interrupted each other on Tuesday night, in what quickly turned out to be a feistier face-off than the first round.
"You'll get your chance in a moment. I'm still speaking," Romney said at one point to Obama.
"Candy, hold on a second," Obama said later on in the debate to moderator Candy Crowley, before Romney plowed over him to tackle Obama's criticism of his foreign investments.
"Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?" Romney said.
"I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours," Obama quipped.
Romney went on to note Obama also has investments outside the country, including in Chinese companies, despite similar charges that the president has leveled at Romney.
The debate revisited a familiar battle between the candidates over taxes and the budget, though the exchange this time was more heated.
Romney, as he has before, said he wants to lower tax rates across the board but make sure the top 5 percent don't pay less than they're paying now.
Obama, as he has before, claimed Romney is pushing a $5 trillion tax cut that either "blows up" the deficit or leads to a middle-class tax hike in order to work.
"We haven't heard from the governor any specifics beyond Big Bird and eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood in terms of how he pays for that," Obama said. The president said that as an investor, Romney "wouldn't have taken such a sketchy deal, and neither should you, the American people."
Romney countered that "of course" his own numbers add up and claimed Obama's account is "completely foreign to what my real plan is."
"When we're talking about math that doesn't add up, how about $4 trillion in deficits over the last four years -- $5 trillion," Romney said, reminding the audience that the federal budget deficit in each of the last four years has exceeded $1 trillion.
Tuesday's town hall-style format at the debate allowed for a 90-minute discussion across a range of foreign and domestic issues. The face-off follows the vice presidential debate last week, where Vice President Biden was decidedly more aggressive than Obama in his opening performance. The vice president, though, also took heat for his demeanor - laughing at and interrupting Republican opponent Paul Ryan repeatedly over the course of their debate.
The final presidential debate will take place Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla., focusing on foreign policy.