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TODAY   |  October 17, 2012

Highlights from presidential town hall debate

Barack Obama looked energized at the second presidential debate, but GOP candidate Mitt Romney mostly stayed with him as the two confronted one another over issues involving immigration, foreign policy, the economy and more. NBC’s Chuck Todd reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> guthrie. the only thing missing from last night's debate was the boxing gloves , maybe a commentator because it had all the makings of a prize fight . president obama and mitt romney trading jabs and then circling around each other and getting in each other's faces. i don't know about you, found it to be a little intense, a little cringe-inducing, hard to watch at times.

>> not at all like the first debate. the president much more engaged and argumentive. romney standing his ground. how is all of this playing out? headlines from across the country. "new york times," rivals bring bare fists to rematch. " washington post " says obama , romney aggressive in rematch and "the chicago tribune ," energized obama goes on defensive and the "dallas morning news" says obama brings heat in second debate, but did he sacrifice like act?

>> for more on this let's go to white house correspondent and political director chuck todd . had a late night .

>> i liked all the photographs that they all captured. all the finger-points, man. pointing each other fingers. like debates with fireworks featuring two candidates who really don't seem to care for one another barack obama and mitt romney delivered big time . the two candidates debated as both their political careers depended on it because, well, it did.

>> not true, governor romney .

>> how much did you cut?

>> the debate confrontational from the start as president obama and governor romney literally circled each other like boxers in the ring.

>> how much did you cut licenses and permits on federal lands and waters?

>> governor romney , here's what we did. there were a whole bunch of oil companies.

>> i had a question and the question was how much did you cut them by?

>> you want me to answer a question. happy to answer the question.

>> mr. president, have you looked at your pension? have you looked at your pension? mr. president, have you looked at your pension?

>> you know, i don't look at my pension. it's not as big as yours.

>> let me --

>> president obama 's advisers promised their candidate would be more aggressive tuesday night, and mr. obama delivered.

>> what governor romney said just isn't true. governor romney doesn't have a five-point plan. he has a one-point plan.

>> reporter: the president also benefitted from many questions posed by the so-called undecided voters covering issues near and dear to his liberal base, from immigration, to pay inequalities in the workplace allowing mr. obama to talk about the first bill he signed into law.

>> the lily ledbetter bill, so we fix that had. that's the example of the kind of advocacy we need

>> i went to a number of women's groups and said can you help us find folks and they brought us whole binders full of women.

>> reporter: on several questions one candidate pounced when the other stumbled. mr. obama was asked by a 2008 supporter why he deserved another four years.

>> well, we've gone through a tough four years. there's no doubt about it. the point is the commitments i've made, i've kept, and those that i haven't been able to keep, it's not for lack of trying, and we're going to get it done in a second term.

>> i think you know better. i think you know that these last four years haven't been so good, as the president just described, and that you don't feel like you're confident that the next four years will be much better either.

>> reporter: romney struggled on how he'd be different than president bush .

>> president bush and i are different people, and these are different times, and that's why my five-point plan is so different than what he would have done.

>> there are differences between governor romney and george bush , but they are not on economic policy . in some ways he's gone to a more extreme place when it comes to social policy , and i think that's a mistake.

>> reporter: the most memorable moment, when the debate turned to foreign policy and the terrorist attacks in libya.

>> there was no demonstration involved. it was a terrorist attack , and it took a long time for that to be told to the american people . whether there was some misleading or whether we just didn't know what happened, i think you have to ask yourself why didn't we know five days later when the ambassador to the united nations went on tv to say that this was a demonstration? how could we have not known.

>> reporter: mr. obama fired back staring down his opponent.

>> the day after the attack, governor, i stood in the rose garden , and i told the american people and the world that we were 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.

>> reporter: and when mr. romney tried to challenge the president he was the ended up appearing rattled.

>> i think it's interesting the president said something which is that on the day after the attack he went in the rose garden and said that this was an act of terror. 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.

>> please proceed, governor.

>> 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.

>> get the transscript.

>> reporter: in fact, here's what the transcript does have the president saying. no acts of terror will ever shake this resolve of the great nation but romney seemed rattled that the president had used the phrase acts of terror. after the debate romney aides insisted while the phrase was used the administration spent days misleading the public on what sparked the debate in the first place. they will debate this. the next debate was on foreign policy . that was an interesting moment.

>> very nuanced. a lot of fact checks on it. i