Obama Brings the Fight

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The president wins his rematch with Mitt Romney by knocking him off his game on Libya, of all things.

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Reuters

HEMPSTEAD, New York -- It was supposed to be a set-up for Mitt Romney's toughest gotcha. Instead it provided an opening for Obama up to give his best answer of the evening during a thrillingly feisty town-hall style presidential debate before an audience of undecided Nassau County voters. The questioners' rich Long Island and outer-borough accents served as a reminder of how unusual it is to see New Yorkers treated as politically relevant "real Americans," and their questions showed that -- when combined with the tough love of moderator Candy Crowley -- they'd been doing their homework. Kerry Ladka even got his "braintrust" in Mineola to help him out with a question on security in Libya.

Obama used his reply to take responsibility for the September 11 foreign-policy disaster in Benghazi. "I am ultimately responsible for what's taking place there because these are my folks, and I'm the one who has to greet those coffins when they come home," the president said. "You know that I mean what I say."

And then he ripped into Romney's suggestion that "his strategy is unraveling before our very eyes" and the Benghazi attack "calls into question the president's whole policy in the Middle East."

"Secretary Clinton has done an extraordinary job. But she works for me," Obama said. "I'm the president and I'm always responsible, and that's why nobody's more interested in finding out exactly what happened than I do. The day after the attack, governor, I stood in the Rose Garden and I told the American people in the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened. That this was an act of terror and I also said that we're going to hunt down those who committed this crime.

"And then a few days later, I was there greeting the caskets coming into Andrews Air Force Base and grieving with the families.

"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."

His eyes flashed. It was Obama at his most commanding. But he wasn't done yet.

CROWLEY: Governor, if you want to ...

ROMNEY: Yes, I -- I ...

CROWLEY: ... quickly to this please.

ROMNEY: I -- I think interesting the president just said something which -- which is that on the day after the attack he went into the Rose Garden and said that this was an act of terror.

OBAMA: That's what I said.

ROMNEY: You said in the Rose Garden the day after the attack, it was an act of terror.

It was not a spontaneous demonstration, is that what you're saying?

OBAMA: Please proceed governor.

ROMNEY: 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.

OBAMA: Get the transcript.

CROWLEY: It -- it -- it -- he did in fact, sir. So let me -- let me call it an act of terror...

OBAMA: Can you say that a little louder, Candy?

And that was that.

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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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