In the second presidential debate, undecided voters asked the candidates questions on a range of important issues.
President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney were, for example, made to discuss outsourcing, which has been the central issue in Illinois’ 17th Congressional district race, and reproductive rights, which has emerged as a key issue in the 8th and 10th Congressional district contests.
There was also a clash on immigration policy and priorities, an issue ignored in the first debate, which mostly focused on fiscal policy.
At one point, President Barack Obama argued that, while obviously restrained by Congress and changing circumstances, a president mainly tries to do what they say they will do in their campaign.
“The commitments I’ve made, I’ve kept,” Obama said. “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."
“But you should pay attention because Governor Romney’s made commitments as well, and I’ll suspect he’ll keep those too,” Obama added.
With that in mind, the debate hopefully provided a glimpse at how much each candidate does, or doesn't, consider certain issues when planning their approach to policy making. Here is a look at three such topics from last night:
* Equal Pay For Women
Both Obama and Romney started their remarks in a response to a question on equal pay for women with personal stories. Obama talked about his family and Romney discussed his time as governor of Massachusetts, specifically mentioning his task of filling cabinet positions and considering flexible hours for women. Romney claimed that in order to fill his cabinet, "I went to a number of women's groups and said, 'can you help us find folks?'"
Obama went further and talked policy, discussing the 2009 Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which ended the statute of limitations on when a woman can file a lawsuit over unequal pay. Romney never mentioned how the federal government can play a role in ensuring equal pay.
Obama did not spend too much time on the pay issue, however, instead pivoting into a discussion of how Romney wants to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, a reproductive health organization that spends a small fraction of its money on abortions.
Romney generically responded that, “I don’t believe bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not”, falsely equating funding Planned Parenthood with compelling women to use its services.
Romney said he would pass a “comprehensive immigration reform” bill in his first year as president, repeatedly chastising Obama for never even filing such a bill. There is a history of Republican presidents working with both parties on major immigration bills, such as Ronald Reagan in 1986 and the filibustered legislation George W. Bush initially worked with Democrats on in 2007.
But Romney has not laid out such legislation. He indicated last night that there would not be an amnesty program for current undocumented immigrants, a break from past comprehensive immigration proposals. He added that children of undocumented immigrants should have a pathway to citizenship, perhaps through military service, furthering muddying his position on an Obama administration deferred action program for these young people.
Obama also did not give his notion of what comprehensive reform looks like, instead running down his record on border enforcement and support for legalizing the children of undocumented immigrants.
Both candidates professed their desire to give more visas to highly-skilled workers, a non-controversial issue that has nevertheless stalled in Congress.
* Environmental Regulations
Through writing, or rolling back, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations, a president has some sizable unilateral power on key environmental issues. Romney said last night that EPA regulations issued by Obama make it “virtually impossible” to build new coal-fired power plants. Romney laid out a seemingly non-discriminating approach to energy policy, championing all sources regardless of their environmental consequences.
"I believe very much in our renewable capabilities — ethanol, wind, solar will be an important part of our energy mix," the former Massachusetts governor said. "But what we don't need is to have the president keeping us from taking advantage of oil, coal and gas."
Obama did not defend his admninistration's energy regulations exactly, such as modest new rules concerning greenhouse gas emissions, instead responding that, “We made the largest investment in clean coal technology to make sure that even as we’re producing new coal, we’re producing it cleaner and smarter.” Clean coal has been a key issue in the central and southern Illinois coal basin. The town of Mattoon for years tried to work with the U.S. Department of Energy on a coal plant that would sequester carbon dioxide pollutants underground.
Obama did, though, call out Romney's policies concerning wind energy, saying that the Republican would undoubtedly end tax credits for the sector. Wind energy companies are currently laying off workers due to concerns about the future of a key tax credit that is set to expire at year's end, on which Congress cannot come to a consensus.
As for climate change, neither candidate has yet to mention the issue in the presidential debates.
Besides these clashes on complex domestic policy issues, the debate was also marked by a heated confrontation regarding last month's attack on the U.S. Consulate building in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the death of U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. Romney accused Obama of not immediately classifying the attack as an act of terror, only to have moderator Candy Crowley intervene to tell Romney, "He did in fact, sir [call it an act of terror]."
Obama then asked, "Can you say that a little louder, Candy?" to laughter and applause from an otherwise quiet audience.
Image: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall