TAYLOR, Mich. — From inside the hall of a local chapter of the United Auto Workers, the second presidential debate between Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama Tuesday night was contentious from the start.
When Romney, the presumed victor of the first debate, appeared on the projector in front of the about 150 UAW members in attendance, as well as U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.), jeers rang out across the hall. When Obama appeared, the crowd was quick to erupt in support, and throughout the debate it occasionally broke into cheers of “Four more years!”
Though partisan in nature, the mood from the gathering of UAW members mirrored the tone of the debate, held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
In the second presidential debate, the candidates were more combative and spirited than their previous contest. Obama and Romney clashed fiercely on every question, often interrupting each other and the moderator and accusing each other of lying about the other’s policies.
Near the beginning of the debate, the candidates sparred over the government bailout of the Chrysler and General Motors, an exchange that drew perhaps the sharpest reaction from the pro-Obama crowd here.
After Obama said Romney would have let the automakers go bankrupt — which elicited taunts against Romney from the crowd — the Republican presidential nominee responded that Obama did in fact let the automakers go bankrupt.
As Obama responded that Romney would have let Detroit go bankrupt without a way for them to survive, loud cheers rang out from the crowd.
The state of the economy was also a major focus of the disagreements between the candidates, with the contenders again offering distinct visions of the job market. When a student began the town hall-style debate by asking how the candidates would improve the job prospects of college graduates, Obama described a growing economy, while Romney reiterated that the “middle class has been crushed in the last four years.”
“The policies he’s put in place … have not let this economy take off and grow like it could have,” Romney said. “The president has tried, but his policies haven’t worked.”
In an interview after the debate, Dingell praised Obama’s aggressiveness in challenging Romney.
“He was more direct in dealing with Romney, which I thought was not only good, but wise and necessary and effective,” Dingell said
Rory Gamble, the UAW Region 1A director, said Obama countered his sub-par performance in the first presidential debate with a strong rebuff of Romney Tuesday night.
“He was a lot more forceful, and more factual and right-to-the-point — he showed the aggressiveness that we need in a president,” Gamble said. “I think tonight we saw the real President Obama.”
Aaron Kall, the director of the University’s debate program, said in a telephone interview that the format of the face-off, Obama’s aggressiveness and the frequent appearance of social issues that favor Obama all added up to a winning night for the president.
Still, Kall said that Obama’s concern should not be if he won the debate, but whether his performance will be enough to convince independent voters to vote for him after a swing in the polls following his dismal first debate performance
“The real question of this debate is … whether undecided voters in critical swing areas are going to be affected by this,” Kall said.
Still, LSA senior Jared Boot, the chair of the University’s chapter of Students for Romney, said he thought Romney carried the night, though the public might beg to differ.
He said Romney maintained his assertiveness while besting Obama on questions involving higher education, and inquiring the candidates’ stances on how the killing of the American ambassador to Libya reflected upon U.S. foreign policy.
“Speaking as the voice of moderation that’s going to unite the country is what he did the best,” Boot said.
Boot referred to polls that reveal Romney narrowing the gap with Obama in critical swing states, including Michigan, and speculated that Romney would hold his position in polls after the debate.
“The first debate, Romney had a decisive victory that changed the map,” he said. “This debate was probably a draw … although I thought Romney did better.”