Toe-to-toe, Romney holds his own

Local reaction mixed on aggressive challenger in 1st debate

By The Associated Press Published:

Little more than a month from Election Day, Republican Mitt Romney is barreling out of the first presidential debate energized by a solid performance that telegraphed his determination to take it to President Barack Obama with gusto. The president, intent on keeping his momentum from stalling, is warning Americans that his GOP rival's policy prescriptions for a fragile economy are more fantasy than reality.

Standing toe-to-toe with the president for the first time in the campaign, Romney held his own and more at a time when there already were signs that the race is tightening in some of the battleground states where Obama has enjoyed an advantage. Obama kept his cool and signaled that he won't let up on his message that Romney's plans on taxes, health care, the deficit and more just don't add up.

"It's fun," Romney declared well into Wednesday night's 90-minute faceoff, clearly relishing the back-and-forth.

"It's arithmetic," said Obama, hammering at Romney's conspicuous lack of details with far less enthusiasm.

After a few days of relative calm as the candidates prepared for the first of their three debates, the campaign now bursts out of Colorado in all directions, with an itinerary that touches down in some of the most hotly contested battleground states over the next few days: Obama campaigns in Colorado and Wisconsin, then on to Virginia and Ohio. Romney and running mate Paul Ryan are off to Virginia on Thursday, then Romney spends more time in Virginia before moving on to Florida. Vice President Joe Biden is bound for Iowa.

With a 13-day break before their next debate, Obama and Romney have time to hone their arguments while their campaigns continuing to bombard the most hotly contested states with negative ads that go far beyond the more restrained jibes the candidates leveled from their respective podiums. Obama made no mention, for example, of Romney's caught-on-tape remark that he's not worried about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay taxes. Democratic ads, though, have been making hay with the comment.

In next few weeks, Romney is expected to give a number of policy speeches filling in details as he tries to sharpen the contrast with Obama while answering criticism that he hasn't clearly outlined his plans. The Republican challenger begins with a foreign policy speech in Virginia on Monday. Subsequent speeches are expected to focus on his plans for job creation, debt and spending.

Romney has promised to balance the budget in eight years to 10 years, but hasn't explained just how he'll do it. Instead, he's promised a set of principles, some of which – like increasing Pentagon spending and restoring more than $700 billion in cuts to Medicare over the coming decade – work against that goal. He also has said he will not consider tax increases.

Obama argued that it's all too much.

"At some point, I think the American people have to ask themselves, is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans to replace secret because they're too good?" he said. "Is it because that somehow middle-class families are going to benefit too much from them? No."

The president went on to say the nation faces tough problems that defy simple solutions and said his own choices were "benefiting middle-class families all across the country."

Romney maintained it was Obama who was crushing the middle class and getting the numbers wrong, telling him, "Mr. President, you're entitled to your own airplane and your own house, but not your own facts."

The two candidates planted themselves behind wooden lecterns and faced off before about a crowd of fewer than 1,000 people at the University of Denver. But their policy-heavy debate really was aimed at the tens of millions of television viewers who tuned in, particularly those who are undecided or soft in their support for a candidate. Just the sort of voters who may be less partisan and more interested in hearing specifics.

Reaction was mixed among Frankfort voters who watched the debate. About 25 Obama supporters viewed the back-and-forth at the Kentucky Democratic Party Headquarters, and those who spoke to The State Journal felt the president held his own while Romney failed to articulate some of his proposed policies, specifically on the economy.

“I feel it’s difficult to debate anybody that is going to be able to just say what they want to say at that given point in time,” said Bill Mahan. “The president has definite plans, he outlined those, and he told the positive results that he’s had.”

Beverly Metcalf, one of the event’s organizers, said Obama made clear points that ordinary people could understand. That should help the president with undecided voters, she said.

“(Romney) says he has a plan, but he needs to tell us what exactly is in his plan,” Metcalf said, adding that she feels Obama supports women’s issues more than Romney.

Others came away more impressed with Romney’s performance, and early reaction polls conducted by CBS News, CNN and others show many Americans agree. CBS, which polled more than 500 uncommitted voters, showed 46 percent thought Romney won the debate versus 22 percent for Obama, and CNN, which interviewed more than 400 voters, found 67 percent felt Romney won the debate while 25 percent thought the debate went to Obama.

Bill Kirkland, a Frankfort lawyer who’s active in the Republican Party, said today the challenger appeared confident and assertive while Obama seemed subdued and defensive.

“Romney was well prepared, he stayed on target, he maintained his enthusiasm, and I thought he did a good job,” Kirkland said, adding he thought the debate should help Romney’s polling numbers heading to the election.

The economy, taxes, job creation and national debt were heavily debated Wednesday, and Kirkland said Romney separated himself on those issues.

“I thought Romney simply understood all that better,” he said. “I thought his understanding of fundamental economics is a lot better than the old style politics espoused by the president.”

Elsewhere, Karl Amelchenko, an Obama supporter who watched the debate at a storefront art gallery in Raleigh, N.C., thought Romney did himself some good.

"I think he won, unfortunately," Amelchenko said. "I think he might change some minds."

But some voters still aren't ready to commit one way or the other.

Cynthia Gerst, a state worker in Ohio who attended a nonpartisan debate watch party in downtown Columbus, confessed she's "been under a rock, but now I'm ready" to pay attention. She leans Democratic, but hasn't made up her mind.

"I couldn't distinguish who was in the right," she said after the debate.

Senior Obama political adviser David Axelrod acknowledged that Romney "did give a strong performance. But that's what it was, a performance."

Axelrod said on NBC's "Today" show Thursday that the former Massachusetts governor had "big gaps in truth that we saw" and said that Obama will set the record straight. He charged that Romney "refused to offer any way to pay" for the broad-ranging tax cut he advocated.

Ed Gillespie, a top aide to Romney, said that what people saw in the debate was a presidential challenger "who had a command of the facts."

"He had a very fact-based critique of Obama's policies," Gillespie said on NBC, adding that "we didn't hear very much, frankly, from President Obama about a second-term agenda."

Both candidates came into the debate with distinct missions, and largely achieved them: Romney needed to project leadership and dispel the image of an out-of-touch elitist. Obama needed to avoid making any major mistakes and press the case that he still has more to offer.

The GOP nominee began his charm offensive from the outset, offering 20th wedding anniversary wishes to the Obamas and joking that the debate hall was quite the romantic setting. And then he quickly segued to the campaign's central issue – jobs – and called it "a very tender topic." Obama sketched out his familiar agenda of improving schools, expanding energy sources, increasing tax fairness and paying down the debt, then made a simple but all-encompassing promise: "All of this is possible."

Each candidate wielded studies and experts to buttress his arguments, and each hauled out anecdotes about ordinary Americans to connect with voters. Romney spoke of the woman in Ohio who grabbed his arm and told him she's been out of work since May. Obama recalled the teacher he met in Las Vegas who had students sitting on the floor and using 10-year-old textbooks.

Biden and Ryan were probably two of the most attentive viewers: Their own debate is up next, on Oct. 11 at Centre College in Danville, Ky. Their rival rehearsals, with stand-ins for their opponents, already are well under way.

Obama and Romney go back at it on Oct. 16, in a town hall-style format at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. Their final faceoff, on foreign affairs, is Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

State Journal staff writer Kevin Wheatley contributed to this report

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  • Or deny that it even exists...something like they say about the polls that show their boy losing ground to the President.

  • HMMMM. Some people, apparently, watched a different debate than the rest of the country.

  • Okay great news but .......wait for it.......here comes the conspiracy theories about the unemployment figures. The economy is starting to take hold and the Republicans know it and they will try and take credit for it.

  • JUst in time for Christmas: U.S. Added 114,000 Jobs in September; Unemployment Rate Fell to 7.8% The nation’s employers added 114,000 jobs in September, a modest showing, the Labor Department reported Friday. But the unemployment rate dropped to 7.8 percent, the lowest since President Obama’s first month in office. In a positive sign, the job growth for August was revised upward to 142,000 from the previously reported 96,000.

  • The Denver Post headline story on the day after the debate described the debate best....it was really perfect. In the first paragraph, it said, "like a bull to a matador, Romney time and time again turned to Obama to deliver attacks." Like a bull to a matador. Hmmm. And what does a matador do to the bull in the end? ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................Ever news outlet or pundit is not going to decide who won or lost this debate. It is going to be the people who decide this in November. BTW, the polls taken on the day after did not move. HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH! He who laughs last, laughs last. BTW, how do you right wingers like your new and improved Mitt Romney, who through the magic of Etch-A-Sketch shook himself up and erased nearly every right wing concept that he has been running on for the last 18 months that had endeared him to the Tea Party base? Like a well-oiled weather vane is what Newt called it. What do YOU call it? ................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................This frantic guy who showed up at the debate and called himself Mitt Romney was the real Mitt Romney, CEO of Bain Capital, who was lying his @$$ off and who had said that he "liked firing people". And it was never so readily apparent as it was that night. He came on to the stage and immediately fired the moderator (who he said he liked), fired Big Bird (who he said he loved), fired PBS (that gets 1/100th of 1% of the national budget) and fired the President, which he obviously held with great disdain. And he said with glee, "This is fun". Like a bull is having fun charging a matador...until the end.

  • Sorry guys. According to almost every news outlet, left and right, Obama straight up lost. You and Rachel Madow are not drinking Koolaid, you guys are snorting lines of the powder straight from the package. HAHAHAAHAHAHAHA!

  • New York Times????????????? Are you kidding me??????????????? LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Without larding up this thread with the facts presented in this debate, check it out here: http://elections.nytimes.com/2012/debates/presidential/2012-10-03

  • It is impossible to debate a liar. You can go to Romney's web site and read it and then listen to his debate with the president and it's like two different worlds he is living in. On the site he says he will put in place a 20 % across the board tax CUT for everyone. Then last night he (Romney) says the president is wrong when he tells you that he (Romney) is cutting taxes for 1%. Huh??

  • I don't blame Obama for not wanting to be there...who would? But that isn't really what happened here, is it? If your opponent doesn't have to adhere the facts, refuses to answer direct questions and is allowed to run all over the moderator, what kind of "debate" is that? What I saw was President Obama becoming increasingly frustrated with Romney's "tweaker" antics. In spite of that, he still kept his cool and in a very Presidential way, refuted everything that Romney threw at him, including the kitchen sink. Sure, he could have punched down at Romney, but that is not his style.

  • BINGO! There it is. I knew you wouldn't let me down D. 1713, Even James Carville said it looked Like Obama didn't want to be there. Denial is a river in Egypt.

  • Wait for it, wait for it...who was fooled by the Etch-A-Sketch, shape-shifting Romney's frantic bull-in-a-china-shop act that was long on polish and zingers but full of lies? He literally ran over the moderator and the President as he reused to answer the questions asked him or even abide by the moderator's direction on who's turn it was to speak. He looked like Sarah Palin in her debate with Biden, only with a better hairdo and vocabulary. I guess for those who are sadly under-informed or in the FOX News bubble, it all sounded great. If you don't have to abide by the facts, ANYONE can be a master debater.

  • I agree that as far as appearance and projection Romney won...but as far as plans, policy and facts Obama hands down. Romney offered no details to any of his plans for the economy. I guess we will have to as Need says ...."wait for it".

  • Wait for it...