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The Obama swagger is back – and not a moment too soon.

A feisty President Barack Obama seized control of a critical debate with Mitt Romney Tuesday, showing voters the grit, passion and leadership necessary to guide the nation through an unsteady economic recovery.

In an overall contentious debate, Romney interrupted Obama on at least two occasions while Obama called out Romney for misleading voters and manipulating the facts.

And Obama, through his body language, also showed some annoyance toward Romney – even some anger at times. The president clearly came ready to mix it up.

“Governor that’s not true,” Obama said several times during the presidential debate at Hofstra University on Long Island, New York. "…You can't buy this sales pitch."

Obama was much sharper on Tuesday; he was more focused, often combative, and he hammered Romney on Romney’s plan to cut funding to “Big Bird” and Seseme Street and Planned Parenthood.

In fact, in the words of James Brown: “Papa don’t take no mess.”

Both candidates became testy and Obama, in particular, looked particularly irritated when Romney spoke of his “5-point plan” to get the economy back on track.

"Gov. Romney says he's got a five point plan? Gov. Romney doesn't have a five-point plan, he's got a one-point plan," the president said. "To make sure that the folks at the top play by a separate set of rules."

Romney appeared to cross the line on one occasion and, in fact, Romney seemed rude and disrespectful to the president. At one point, as Obama stood up, Romney reprimanded him: “You'll get your chance in a moment, I'm still speaking.”

Obama used his second debate with Romney to tout his accomplishments since he took office and outline his vision for the next four years if he’s re-elected to the White House in 20 days. The president was also more assertive in Tuesday’s debate, holding Romney accountable for his dishonesty.

“You can make a lot of money and pay lower tax rates than somebody who makes a lot less,” Obama said. “You can ship jobs overseas and get tax breaks for it. You can invest in a company, bankrupt it, lay off the workers, strip away their pensions, and you still make money.”

“That's exactly the philosophy that we've seen in place for the last decade,” the president added. “That's what's been squeezing middle class families.”

For Romney’s part, the Republican billionaire rarely flinched. He pounded the president on the economy, saying Obama’s policies are flawed and will prevent the economy from growing. More Americans under an Obama administration, Romney said, will remain unemployed.

“Well what you're seeing in this country is 23 million people struggling to find a job. And a lot of them, as you say, Candy, have been out of work for a long, long, long time,” Romney said. “ The president's policies have been exercised over the last four years and they haven't put Americans back to work.”

Obama needed a good night – and the stakes couldn’t be higher.

The president entered Tuesday’s debate playing catch up to Romney who enjoyed a bounce in the polls following last week’s first presidential debate. While most national polls show the race neck-in-neck, many surveys are also showing that Romney is slowly beginning to chip away at Obama’s lead in crucial swing states.

The president’s poor performance in the first debate clearly allowed Romney to climb back into the race. Romney’s aides say campaign contributions have increased significantly and crowds are swelling at Romney’s campaign rallies.

Tuesday’s debate also comes as a Washington-Post/ABC News poll shows that likely voters are split  — 49 percent for Obama to 46 percent for Romney. The poll shows that traditional groups that backed Obama in 2008  — including Democrats, non-whites and younger voters — are far less interested in the campaign this year.

But a new USA Today/Gallup poll on Tuesday has Romney leading Obama by 4 percentage points among likely voters in 12 battleground states – a survey that has some Democrats deeply concerned.

The poll finds Romney leading Obama 51 percent to 46 percent among likely voters. Among registered voters, Obama maintains a slight lead — edging Romney 49 percent to 47 percent.

The survey also shows that Romney has also made huge gains with female voters. Romney and Obama are now tied at 48 percent a piece among likely female voters. Among likely male voters, Romney leads by 12 points — 54 percent to 42 percent.

Obama, however, is wasting no time taking his message directly to voters. On Wednesday, the president will travel to Iowa and Ohio – a critical battleground state where Obama holds a slight edge.

The president’s campaign strategists insist that Obama is on track for victory.

“We’ve invested for years, and we invested early, in the battleground states,” Jeremy Bird, the Obama campaign’s national field director, told reporters.

Bird said all across the country Democrats lead Republicans in registration in nearly every battleground state. He added that Latino voter registration has greatly exceeded registration for non-Latino whites. And Latino registration preference has increasingly favored Democrats since the election in 2008.

“Perhaps most strikingly,” Bird said, “most new registrants are younger than 30 and, in fact, more than four in five new registrants in these battleground states are women, young people and minorities.”

Twenty days until Election Day – and counting.


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