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Rumble in Long Island: Plenty of Punches Propel Campaign to Final Showdown

Obama stressed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which has been a staple of every campaign stump. Romney hit at the contraception mandate, adding, "Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives."

Romney was asked how he would differentiate himself for George W. Bush, who has been absent from the campaign trail. He said he would add more free trade agreements, balance the budget, and focus on small business instead of big business.

"And the thing I find the most troubling about ObamaCare, well it's a long list, but one of the things I find most troubling is that when you go out and talk to small businesses and ask them what they think about it, they tell you it keeps them from hiring more people," he added, notching in that point when there were no healthcare-specific questions during the night.

"You know, there are some things where Governor Romney is different from George Bush. George Bush didn't propose turning Medicare into a voucher. George Bush embraced comprehensive immigration reform. He didn't call for self-deportation," Obama said.

"George Bush never suggested that we eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood, so there are differences between Governor Romney and George Bush, but they're not on economic policy. In some ways, he's gone to a more extreme place when it comes to social policy."

Romney hammered away at Obama over unemployment and the number of people on food stamps when a man who voted for the Democrat in 2008 noted that everyday living expenses had gotten worse. Obama noted that he had killed Osama bin Laden.

Then came a question for Romney about how he'd deal with immigrants "without their green cards that are currently living here as productive members of society."

"When the president ran for office, he said that he'd put in place, in his first year, a piece of legislation -- he'd file a bill in his first year that would reform our -- our immigration system, protect legal immigration, stop illegal immigration. He didn't do it," Romney said.

"If we're going to go after folks who are here illegally, we should do it smartly and go after folks who are criminals, gangbangers, people who are hurting the community, not after students, not after folks who are here just because they're trying to figure out how to feed their families," Obama said. "And that's what we've done."

Romney then asked to jump back to an earlier line of debate about Chinese investments.

"Governor Romney, you can make it short. See all these people? They've been waiting for you," Crowley said.

"Any investments I have over the last eight years have been managed by a blind trust. And I understand they do include investments outside the United States, including in Chinese companies," Romney said. "Mr. President, have you looked at your pension? Have you looked at your pension?"

"You know, I -- I don't look at my pension. It's not as big as yours so it doesn't take as long," Obama retorted.

"Let me give you some advice. Look at your pension. You also have investments in Chinese companies. You also have investments outside the United States. You also have investments through a Caymans trust," Romney said.

"We're way off topic here, Governor Romney," Crowley said.

"I thought we were talking about immigration," said Obama, before Crowley asked Romney to sit down.

The two tangled over the Benghazi attack, foreshadowing the final debate next week on foreign policy, when Romney pressed Obama on whether the president called the attack an act of terror in the Rose Garden the day after the murders.

"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," Romney said.

"Get the transcript," Obama shot back, leaving Crowley to say both candidates were right in some way.

(”No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this nation,” Obama said Sept. 12 in the Rose Garden.)

To a subsequent question about assault weapons, Romney's answer diverged into telling young people to get married before having kids. Obama's answer veered into promotion of his community college retraining programs.

When asked to wrap up with the "biggest misperception that the American people have about you as a man and a candidate," Romney said that he cares "about 100 percent of the American people."

"My passion probably flows from the fact that I believe in God. And I believe we're all children of the same God. I believe we have a responsibility to care for one another. I served as a missionary for my church. I served as a pastor in my congregation for about 10 years. I've sat across the table from people who were out of work and worked with them to try and find new work or to help them through tough times," the GOP nominee said.

"I believe Governor Romney is a good man. Loves his family, cares about his faith. But I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about," Obama said. "Folks on Social Security who've worked all their lives. Veterans who've sacrificed for this country. Students who are out there trying to hopefully advance their own dreams, but also this country's dreams. Soldiers who are overseas fighting for us right now. People who are working hard every day, paying payroll tax, gas taxes, but don't make enough income."

The CNN poll conducted right after the debate found 46 percent of respondents picking the president as the evening's victor, with 39 percent picking Romney.

Nearly three-quarters said Obama performed better than expected, though nearly half said the debate wouldn't shift their votes one way or the other -- with the other half split evenly between Obama and Romney.

"OK, Obama staged comeback. But can he make up lost ground, or just not lose more?" tweeted Larry Sabato, who noted that the rules had disintegrated through the night. "Avalanche of polls will tell us."