The exchange also saw the first mention between the candidates on stage of the controversial remarks Romney made at a secretly taped fundraiser about 47 percent of Americans who are dependent on the government and see themselves as victims.
"I also believe that when he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considers themselves victims who refuse personal responsibility think about who he was talking about," Obama said in his closing statement, noting those people live on Social Security, serve in the military, attend college and work hard every day. "And I want to fight for them," the president added.
Romney, trying to rebut that attack, noted moments before that Obama's campaign is trying to paint him as someone he's not.
"I care about a hundred percent of the American people," Romney said. "I want a hundred percent of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future."
Obama's mojo • Less than 10 minutes in, Obama said Romney's comments weren't true. Eight minutes later, he did it again.
"What I've tried to do is be consistent," Obama said a minute later, trying to press the image of Romney as a shape shifter.
Obama's perceived weak performance in the first debate led to a surge for Romney in swing state and national polls. The president wasn't about to let that happen again Tuesday and countered Romney on point after point.
Romney, too, tried to hold his ground, demanding to respond to Obama's points and repeatedly calling voters' attention to Obama's record.
"He keeps saying, look, I've created 5 million jobs," Romney charged.
"That's after losing 5 million jobs. The entire record is such that the unemployment has not been reduced in this country."
Public lands • A question about gas prices turned into a battle about drilling on public lands, with Obama arguing that American oil production is at the highest point in 16 years and there have been boosts in coal production and coal-mine employment.
Romney wasn't having it.
"What we don't need is to have the president keeping us from taking advantage of oil, coal and gas," Romney said. "This has not been Mr. Oil or Mr. Gas or Mr. Coal."
Crowley, fact checker • Romney went after Obama for taking two weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Libya to label the deaths of four Americans as a terrorist attack.
Obama responded that he called the murders an act of terror the next day, cueing the Republican to pounce.
"I want to make sure we get that on the record," Romney said. That prompted Crowley to back Obama's claim.
"Can you say that a little louder, Candy?" Obama asked.
Just a day before, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took the blame for any failures that led to the deaths of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others.
Still, Obama said the buck stops with him.
"I am ultimately responsible for what's taking place there, because these are my folks," the president said.
Courting the women • With the female vote a key demographic targeted by both campaigns, the word "women" was used more than 30 times during the debate.
Obama noted that the first piece of legislation he signed was an equal pay law and that Romney had opposed that bill. The president criticized the Republican for having said he would get rid of federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
"There are millions of women all across the country who rely on Planned Parenthood for not just contraceptive care," Obama said. "They rely on it for mammograms, for cervical cancer screenings."
For his part, Romney said the best answer to equal pay concerns was to build back the economy.
"What we can do to help young women and women of all ages is to have a strong economy, so strong that employers are looking to find good employees and bringing them into their workforce and adapting to a flexible work schedule that gives women the opportunities that that they would otherwise not be able to to afford," Romney said.
Reforming immigration • Romney went after Obama on an immigration question, asking why the president had failed to live up to a campaign vow to address comprehensive reform within his first year.
"Why did he fail to even promote legislation that would have provided an answer for those that want to come here legally and for those that are here illegally today?" Romney asked.
Obama blamed Republicans who weren't willing to negotiate and then slammed Romney for saying he was against the DREAM Act, which would have allowed younger immigrants a pathway to citizenship and the details of which Obama pushed through by executive order.
Said Obama of Romney, "His main strategy during the Republican primary was to say, we're going to encourage self-deportation, making life so miserable on folks that they'll leave."