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Obama, Romney clash in crucial debate -

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ELEANOR HALL: Let's go now to the United States, where tens of millions of Americans are watching the second debate between the two candidates for president of their country.

With the election now just three weeks away, there is a lot of pressure on both President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney to perform well in this debate.

Mitt Romney's strong performance in the first debate helped him reverse his slide in the opinion polls.

Most recent surveys now have him closing in on the President in the race for the White House.

Our North America correspondent Lisa Millar has been watching the candidates debate the issues at this "town hall" style debate in New York.

Lisa, there has been a lot of pressure on the President to give a more lively performance this second time around - is he doing that?

LISA MILLAR: Well if Democrats were looking for a more aggressive Barack Obama, they certainly got it.

And I think the effect has been that it's rubbed off on Mitt Romney, who also appears to have ramped it up a bit.

Both of the men arguing over each other, all the rules for this kind of debate that they've negotiated ad nauseum - that they were not to question each other, that they were only to answer and respond to the questions from the moderator and the audience - have been thrown out the window.

At one point, they completely ignored everyone else in the room and just went at each other, speaking over each other, speaking over Candy Crowley, the moderator, at times.

It is certainly a feisty debate.

At one point, they appeared to be walking toe to toe.

The media room here went completely silent as we thought they were becoming quite physically close to each other.

But let's just have a little listen to just one of the exchanges.

MITT ROMNEY: In the last four years, you cut permits and licences on federal land and federal waters in half.

BARACK OBAMA: Not true, Governor Romney.

MITT ROMNEY: So how much did you cut them by?

BARACK OBAMA: It's not true.

MITT ROMNEY: By how much did you cut them by then?

BARACK OBAMA: Governor, we have actually produced more oil…

MITT ROMNEY (interrupts): No, no, how much did you cut licences and permits on federal land and federal waters?

BARACK OBAMA: Governor Romney, here's what we did. There were a whole bunch of oil companies…

MITT ROMNEY (interrupts): I had a question, and the question was how much did you cut them by?

BARACK OBAMA: You want me to answer a question... I'm happy to answer the question.

MITT ROMNEY: Alright, and it is?

BARACK OBAMA: Here's what happened. You had a whole bunch of oil companies who had leases on public lands that they weren't using.

ELEANOR HALL: That's just a little snippet from the debate, Lisa, and yes, it does sound very feisty.

We had a Bush strategist on the program before the last debate who said he breaks into a cold sweat when he hears the term "town hall debate".

How much of a challenge is today's debate format proving to be for the two leaders?

LISA MILLAR: Well, so far, they both seem to be handling it OK.

In fact, in the very first answer, Mitt Romney was asked by a college student how he could be guaranteed a job when he graduated and Mitt Romney gave his chat about what he would do for the economy and then he came back to him and called him by name again and said, "Jeremy, when do you graduate?"

And Jeremy, the student, said 2014.

And Mitt Romney said, "Well, I'm going to guarantee you if I'm president, or when I'm president, I'll make sure you get a job."

There was that very sort of intimate exchange with the audience member.

You're absolutely right about it being cold sweat material because previously, candidates have come undone in this kind of environment.

The first President Bush was caught looking at his watch while someone was asking him a question.

Last time around, John McCain wandered around the stage so much - as they're allowed to do, walk away from their bar stools - he wandered away so much comedians made fun of him and suggested he was looking for a lost dog.

So so far, these two candidates appear to have done quite well in this environment, but whether this aggressiveness is going to go over well is now the question.

I'm not sure they're getting through as many questions from the audience as perhaps they intended to.

ELEANOR HALL: Yes, you wouldn't want to be the moderator in this, would you?

Has either candidate yet scored a real hit in the debate?

LISA MILLAR: No, they've had some pretty good exchanges though, and certainly there was a discussion about jobs.

I mean, most of it has been taken up by the economy.

The questions have been dominated about questions about the economy and their exchanges keep coming back to what they would do.

Let's have a listen to another one of the exchanges, when they were talking about- started off talking about the car industry and then morphed into jobs.

MITT ROMNEY: And I know he keeps saying "You wanted to take Detroit bankrupt".

Well the president took Detroit bankrupt.

You took General Motors bankrupt.

BARACK OBAMA: Governor Romney says he's got a five point plan.

Governor Romney doesn't have a five point plan, 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.

ELEANOR HALL: So President Obama was restrained in the last debate, Lisa, not even mentioning that 47 per cent gaffe by Mitt Romney.

Did he make any play with that today?

LISA MILLAR: No, not as yet.

There are various matters that we thought would come up, including Mitt Romney's Bain Capital background. That hasn't come up as well.

But there have been- again, I come back again to this economy and the issue of the jobs because that seems to be where the real anger has come from.

Even on Twitter, people are suggesting you know, these two men really don't like each other.

You get that sense on the stage as they're debating each other - the President looking quite grim, Mitt Romney is not stepping back at all.

In fact there was an exchange where Barack Obama was trying to tease out more details about Mitt Romney's tax cuts and what he plans to do to try and cut the deficit.

Let's have a little listen to that.

BARACK OBAMA: If somebody came to you, Governor, with a plan that said, "Here, I want to spend seven or eight trillion dollars and we're going to pay for it but we can't tell you - until maybe after the election - how we're going to do it", you wouldn't have taken such a sketchy deal.

And neither should you, the American people, because the math doesn't add up.

CANDY CROWLEY: If somehow when you get in there, there isn't enough tax revenue coming in, if somehow the numbers don't add up, would you be willing to look again at a 20 per cent…

MITT ROMNEY (interrupts): Well of- of course they add up.

I was someone who ran businesses for 25 years and balanced the budget.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Republican Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama trading blows there in that second presidential debate, a town hall style debate in New York.

Our correspondent Lisa Millar there, taking us through.