US President Barack Obama went on the offensive during his debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney on Tuesday evening, delivering an energetic performance that stood in stark contrast to his lackluster showing during the candidates' first debate two weeks ago.
In a contest accentuated by sharp exchanges and verbal tussling for microphone time, Obama dished out a series of caustic attacks, repeatedly highlighting Romney's wealth in an apparent effort to paint the Republican as out of touch with the American middle and working classes.
After Obama criticized Romney for investing in companies that outsource jobs to China, the Republican candidate said these investments were made by a blind trust and suggested the president check his own pension to see whether it was invested in companies that outsource.
"I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours, so it doesn't take as long," Obama responded, sparking laughter from the crowd.
In another barb, Obama said Romney's plan to help kickstart the economy by cutting taxes on capital gains would benefit the wealthiest Americans, adding that Romney - who is worth an estimated $250 million - pays a lower effective tax rate that many working-class Americans.
As in the first debate, the economy took center stage during Tuesday's showdown. Romney said Americans cannot afford another four years of Obama's economic policies, while Obama said the Republican candidate's plan to slash the deficit would ultimately hit middle- and working-class Americans hardest.
Romney, however, repeatedly denied that he would lower the tax burden for the wealthiest Americans.
"I will not under any circumstances reduce the share that's being paid by the highest-income paying taxpayers, and I will not under any circumstance increase taxes on the middle class," Romney said.
During several tense exchanges, the two candidates repeatedly interrupted one another, occasionally coming face-to-face as they roamed around the stage during the town hall-style debate.
The debate was primarily focused on domestic policy. But responding to a question from an audience member about the attack on the US embassy in Libya last month - in which the US ambassador to the country was killed - Romney said the tragedy shows that Obama's Middle East policy is "unraveling before our very eyes."
Obama has faced accusations - including from Romney - that members of his administration misrepresented the circumstances leading up to the attack, and also that the diplomatic compound in Libya was not allocated adequate security resources.
Ahead of Tuesday's debate, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she is responsible for the safety of American embassies and diplomats throughout the world.
During Tuesday's debate, however, Obama said that ultimately the responsibility for the safety of State Department officials lies with him, not Clinton.
“She works for me,” Obama said. “I’m the president, and I’m always responsible."