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Both Teams Claim Victory After Pushy, Tense Town Hall Debate At Hofstra

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Both campaign teams are calling Tuesday night's presidential debate a win for their candidate.

LISTEN: Four Reports From WCBS 880's Peter Haskell At Hofstra University


President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney engaged in a pushy, interruption-filled encounter at the town hall-style event at Hofstra University in Hempstead, making charges and countercharges that the other guy wasn't telling the truth.

CBS News' Scott Pelley called it "the most rancorous presidential debate ever."

Georgetown University debate director Jonathan Paul said at one point, he thought Obama and Romney "were going to come to blows."

According to a CBS News instant poll, Obama edged Romney for a win in the second presidential debate. Moments after the debate, 37 percent of voters polled said the president won, 30 percent awarded the victory to Romney, and 33 percent called it a tie.

Both men forcefully argued that their policies would do more to strengthen the economy. They laid out sharp contrasts on issues including taxes, energy, health care, the deficit and foreign policy.

Romney, brimming with confidence, distilled the essence of his campaign message early in Tuesday's 90-minute debate and repeated it often.

"I know what it takes to get this economy going," he said over and over. And this: "We can do better." And this: "We don't have to settle for what we're going through."

Obama, with both the benefit and the burden of a record to run on, had a more nuanced message.

"The commitments I've made, I've kept," he said. "And those that I haven't been able to keep, it's not for lack of trying and we're going to get it done in a second term."

Obama also was relentless in dismissing the merits of Romney's policies and rejecting his characterizations of the president's record.

"Governor Romney doesn't have a five-point plan," the president argued. "He has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules."

The candidates were in each other's faces -- sometimes literally -- before an audience of 82 uncommitted voters from Nassau County.

One of the most intense moments came during a question about the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.

"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," Romney said.

But Obama said he had said so the day after in an appearance in the Rose Garden outside the White House.

When moderator Candy Crowley of CNN said the president had in fact done so, Obama, prompted, "Say that a little louder,

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has taken responsibility for the death of Ambassador L. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, but Obama said bluntly, "I'm the president and I'm always responsible."

Romney said it was "troubling" that Obama continued with a campaign event in Las Vegas on the day after the attack in Libya, an event the Republican said had "symbolic significance and perhaps even material significance."

"It took them a long time to say this was a terrorist act by a terrorist group," Romney said.

Obama said it was offensive for anyone to allege that he or anyone in his administration had used the incident for political purposes.

"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," Obama said.

According to the transcript, Obama said on Sept. 12, "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for."

Excitement over the debate swept Hofstra University. Hundreds waited in long lines for a chance to watch the candidates together on a big screen.

When the debate began, there were cheers and cat-calls with strong opinions on both sides.

"I like that Mr. Romney touched on keeping North America energy independent from the rest of the world because right now I feel like they have a stranglehold on our economy," one student said.

"I really liked that President Obama has my future in mind. When he was asked what college students should expect when they get out of college, he had a plan, he didn't just have an ambiguous idea," said another student. "He gave me a real idea of what I'm going to be seeing when I graduate."

The final debate, next Monday in Florida, will be devoted to foreign policy.

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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