Voters get their turn to press Obama and Romney on the debate stage

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — They ranged from a 20-year-old student to a mother of college-aged children. And they were anxious about jobs, gas prices and fixing the nation’s broken immigration system.

These were the chosen ones, undecided voters picked to ask questions of President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney in their second debate. Most in the 82-person crowd live near the debate site at Hofstra University, in reliably Democratic New York. Each summited a question to moderator Candy Crowley, who got the final say on which inquiries made the final cut.

“What can you say to reassure me, but more importantly my parents, that I will be able to sufficiently support myself after I graduate?” asked Jeremy Epstein, a college student and the first questioner.

The 90-minute televised event was the only one of the three presidential and one vice presidential debates where voters, not just a moderator, posed questions.

Obama’s dismal performance in the first debate gave Romney’s campaign new life with just three weeks from Election Day and voters in key battleground states already casting ballots.

Susan Katz, an undecided voter worried about voting for another Republican, asked Romney, “What’s the biggest difference between you and George W. Bush?”

Michael Jones, who voted for Obama in 2008, said he wasn’t optimistic about the current state of the country.

“What have you done or accomplished to earn my vote in 2012?” Jones asked the president.

Crowley said her goal was to fit in 15 questions from the audience. She fell short, with just 11 voters getting to questions — five women and six men.

That happened in part because Crowley asked follow-up questions of her own. Plus, Obama and Romney focused much of their attention on each other, engaging in heated exchanges on issue after issue. At some points, the candidates were facing each other, but had their backs to the voters sitting in a semi-circle around the candidates.

“Do you see all these people? They’re waiting for you,” the moderator said just after the hour-mark.

Coming face to face with the questions of undecided voters has been a rarity for both candidates. Romney has held dozens of town hall meetings, but most featured friendly Republican crowds. Obama has rarely held town hall meetings at president, preferring carefully selected television and radio interviews.

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