HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) - President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney sparred Tuesday with passion and grit in a debate that previewed the closing arguments of a campaign that keeps circling back to bedrock questions about which candidate can do more to strengthen the fragile economy.

With just three weeks left in the race, the candidates fan out in all directions Wednesday to pitch their tuned-up messages directly to voters on some of the campaign's most treasured turf: Romney in Virginia, Obama in Iowa.

It was a re-energized Obama who showed up for Thursday's town hall-style debate at Hofstra University, lifting the spirits of Democrats who felt let down by the president's limp performance in the candidates' first encounter two weeks ago. But Romney knew what was coming and didn't give an inch.

Obama accused Romney of peddling a "sketchy deal" to fix the U.S. economy and favoring a "one-point plan" to help the rich at the expense of the middle class.

The Republican protested that the charge was way off the mark and countered that the middle class "has been crushed" during Obama's term.