Hempstead, New York (CNN) -- Fireworks flew early in the second presidential debate between Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama on Tuesday night.
The candidates clashed over the auto industry bailout, jobs, energy policy and education.
Unlike other debates, the format was town hall-style, with audience members asking the questions and CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley serving as moderator.
Obama was more animated and engaging than his understated and widely panned performance in their first debate nearly two weeks ago.
He and Romney, who also aggressively made his points, walked the floor at Hofstra University, holding microphones, raising their voices and challenging each other's points.
"Governor Romney says he's got a five point plan. Governor Romney doesn't have a five point plan; he has a one point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules," Obama said about his Republican opponent's approach for boosting the economy.
The first question came from a 20-year-old college student, worried about whether he'd be able to support himself after graduation.
"More debt and less jobs. I'm going to change that. I know what it takes to create good jobs again," Romney said, addressing the first-time voter. "When you come out in 2014 -- I presume I'm going to be president -- I'm going to make sure you get a job."
Obama needs a strong debate to try to blunt Romney's rise in the polls since their first showdown in Denver, when analysts and polls indicated the GOP challenger won a clear victory.
The most recent CNN "poll of polls" -- an aggregate of the latest major surveys -- showed Romney with a slight edge nationally at 48%-47%. In the battleground states considered up-for-grabs, polls show Romney has narrowed Obama's lead or caught the president just three weeks before the election.
The Obama campaign conceded he had a bad night in the first debate and promised a more aggressive approach in New York. A third and final debate focusing on foreign policy will take place October 22 in Florida.
Polls show voters consider the economy to be the most important election issue.
Unemployment fell below 8% in September for the first time since the month Obama took office in 2009. However, millions remain out of work and U.S. economic growth is anemic.
Romney and his campaign have sought to frame the election as a referendum on Obama's presidency, citing joblessness, slow recovery from the recession and chronic federal deficits and debt as reasons to deny a second term.
For their part, Obama and Democrats have tried to make the election about competing visions for the future. They argue Republican proposals to repeal major legislation, such as health care and Wall Street reforms, while cutting government and expanding tax cuts without identifying additional revenue sources would stall a sluggish but steady recovery.