A newly energetic and aggressive President Barack Obama went directly after his Republican challenger starting with the first minutes of their second presidential debate, attacking Mitt Romney's business record and accusing him of offering a meek 'me, too' to conservative Republicans in congress.
'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,' Obama said during his answer to the debate's first question on Tuesday night.
Romney's plan was to 'make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules', he added, making quick references to lower tax rates for the wealthy, companies sending jobs overseas and corporate takeovers that 'strip away' pensions from workers and 'still make money' for owners.
Within the debate's first six minutes, Obama had twice accused Romney of saying things that were 'not true'.
Romney, who had dominated the first debate two weeks ago, often appeared to be on the defensive, accusing Obama of distorting his positions. But he repeatedly made efforts to return the debate to his strongest point - Obama's economic record.
'The president has tried, but his policies haven't worked,' he said, citing the nation's continued high unemployment rate. 'That's what this election is about.'
Each man aimed comments directly at voters that are key to their election efforts. Obama delivered a long list of policies that his administration has designed to help women in the workplace and said Romney's plans would deprive many working women of contraceptive coverage on their health plans.
Romney stressed his desire to help small businesses and reduce their taxes and government regulations.
Obama's approach to a question on Romney's budget plan illustrated how significantly he had reversed his approach from the first debate, which many of his supporters saw as too passive.
Romney offered a broad outline of his proposals, saying the goal was to simplify the tax code and ensure that the middle class pay less.
'Under the last four years, they've been buried, and I want to help people in the middle class. And I will not - I will not under any circumstances - reduce the share that's being paid by the highest-income taxpayers,' he said.
Obama responded with a multi-pronged attack, invoking his rival's 14 per cent tax burden - 'when a lot of you are paying much higher' - and recalling his pledge to Republicans in the primary phase of the campaign that he would also seek to lower taxes on the top 1 per cent. And, Obama said, Romney's budget math 'doesn't add up'.
'When he's asked, how are you going to do it, which deductions, which loopholes are you going to close, he can't tell you,' Obama said. 'We haven't heard from the governor any specifics, beyond Big Bird and eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood, in terms of how he pays for that.'
Then he went one step further, invoking Romney's background as 'a very successful investor'.
'If somebody came to you, Governor, with a plan that said, here; I want to spend $7 or $8 trillion, and then 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,' Obama said.
Romney then also leaned on his resume, saying throughout his career - as a businessman, running the Olympics, and as governor of Massachusetts, he always balanced the budget. And Obama's record is one that 'puts us on a road to Greece'.
'When we're talking about math that doesn't add up, how about $4 trillion of deficits over the last four years, 5 trillion,' he said. 'We have a president talking about someone's plan in a way that's completely foreign to what my real plan is, and then we have his own record, which is we have four consecutive years where he said, when he was running for office, he could cut the deficit in half. Instead, he's doubled it.'
For both men, the attack lines reprised themes that their campaigns have stressed in advertising that has saturated the airwaves in battleground states.
The sharply worded exchanges bore out pre-debate predictions that Obama would more aggressively challenge Romney in this debate than he had in the first one. After a distinctly lacklustre performance in the first debate, which left Democrats demoralised, Obama was under great pressure to try to create a turnaround in the second encounter.
As the debate became increasingly heated, moderator Candy Crowley several times had to admonish the candidates to stay on topic.
Obama's task at the debate was to revive the enthusiasm of his supporters in order to drive up turnout and to begin the process of wooing back some of the undecided who had drifted Romney's way. Aides said they were particularly focused on female voters.
Obama's lead over Romney in September had depended in large part on strong support from blue-collar women, and several polls had shown him losing ground with them since the first debate.