HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- Two alpha dogs tangled Tuesday, snarling and snapping, as a revived President Barack Obama staged a comeback, helped by an overly aggressive Mitt Romney.
The second presidential debate at Hofstra University was a town hall, with Obama and Romney free to roam the stage. And prowl around they did. They were boxers sizing up when to throw a punch, aware that their body language was going to be read by some undecided voters as a cue to their world view and their worthiness to be president.
Romney methodically underscored his central messages: that Obama has not delivered on the promises he made when he ran four years ago and that as a former governor and businessman, Romney could do better.
An energized Obama emphasized from the start the future; he was a little obvious about that because in the beginning he used the word over and over. But telling people that he had a second act to offer was a central challenge of this debate and Obama knew it going in.
Obama also did what his team said he would. Unlike the first debate, when he did not call Romney out when he thought he was wrong, this time he did: on the Detroit auto bailout and jobs. Romney "says he's got a five point plan? Gov. Romney doesn't have a five-point plan. He has a one-point plan," Obama siad.
The biggest misstep Romney made was a total self-inflicted wound when he raised -- of all matters -- whether Obama kept tabs of his pension. As if that's all that Obama had to do?
"Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?" Romney demanded.
"Candy," Obama implored at the moderator, CNN's Candy Crowley.
"Have you looked at your pension?" Romney said again.
And then a third time: "Mr. President, have you looked at your pension?
"You know, I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours."
Romney went off on that tangent to try to deflect attention away from his own overseas investments -- as a private citizen and when he ran Bain Capital.
At another point, when Romney was trying to make a point, he tried to shut down Obama -- too forcefully. "You'll get your chance in a moment. I'm still speaking," Romney said.
Those two exchanges made Romney look unpresidential and eroded the enormous gain he earned from his first debate Oct. 3 in Denver.
Obama made up the ground he lost in the Denver debate that has fueled new momenteum into Romney's campaign and handed him a lead in many polls.
The debate focused almost entirely on domestic affairs and Obama remembered what he forgot to do in Denver -- tell people what he has accomplished in the past almost four years.
There was a long exchange about energy -- gas and coal, with a lot of it aimed at Ohio voters. In that crucial battleground state, gas and coal production are major issues.
Said Obama, "so here's what I've done since I've been president. We have increased oil production to the highest levels in 16 years. Natural gas production is the highest it's been in decades. We have seen increases in coal production and coal employment."
Retorted Romney, "But what we don't need is to have the president keeping us from taking advantage of oil, coal and gas. This has not been Mr. Oil or Mr. Gas or Mr. Coal."
Obama looked a lot grayer since he was last at this stage at Hofstra -- on Oct. 15, 2008, when he debated Sen. John McCain.
But McCain did not chase him around his stage.
The next and last debate is Monday in Florida.