In round two of the presidential debates, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney went toe to toe, with two polls saying Obama won narrowly. But the Libya issue will stay in the spotlight until next Monday’s final debate.
Round three will be about foreign policy, and it certainly has the potential to be more contentious than last night’s fight on Long Island.
The key exchange last night featured a verbal brawl over President Obama’s remarks on the day after U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and other Americans were killed in Libya.
"I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an act of terror," Obama said.
Romney quickly challenged Obama's claim.
“I want to make sure we get that for the record, because it took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror,” he said.
"Get the transcript," Obama tersely responded.
Moderator Candy Crowley then jumped into the battle.
"He did, in fact, sir,” said Crowley, who was at the Rose Garden covering the statement for CNN. “He did call it an act of terror. It did as well take—it did as well take two weeks or so for the whole idea of there being a riot out there about this tape to come out. You are correct about that.”
Lost in the media coverage on Wednesday was that the Libya-Rose Garden exchange obscured perhaps Obama’s best moment of the night—the paragraph after his Rose Garden reference:
“And the suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we've lost four of our own, Governor, is offensive. That's not what we do. That's not what I do as president. That's not what I do as commander in chief,” Obama said.
Romney and his supporters quickly pointed out that Obama administration’s actions in Libya are indicators of a failing Middle East policy. But even Romney’s biggest supporters were saying on TV that the GOP contender lost a valuable opening to counter Obama’s attack.
And ironically, the Libya exchange will keep the topic on the front burner, which many GOP supporters believe will benefit Romney. So while Romney lost a style point, the issue remains alive for at least another week.
The final debate in on Monday in Boca Raton, Florida, and it will be in the same format as the first debate. Veteran CBS correspondent Bob Schieffer will moderate.
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