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Obama, Romney clash on economy in first debate

By David Espo and Julie Pace

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 01:44 p.m. HST, Oct 04, 2012

DENVER » In a showdown at close quarters, President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney sparred aggressively in their first campaign debate Wednesday night over taxes, deficits and strong steps needed to create jobs in a sputtering national economy. "The status quo is not going to cut it," declared the challenger.

Obama in turn accused his rival of seeking to "double down" on economic policies that actually led to the devastating national downturn four years ago — and of evasiveness on details for Romney proposals on tax changes, health care, Wall Street regulation and more.

Both men made frequent references to the weak economy and high national unemployment, by far the dominant issue in the race for the White House. Public opinion polls show Obama with a slight advantage in key battleground states and nationally, and Romney was particularly aggressive, like a man looking to shake up the campaign with a little less than five weeks to run.

With a prime-time television audience likely counted in the tens of millions, moderator Jim Lehrer was pressed at time to enforce time limits on the two rivals. The president occasionally shook his head as Romney talked over Lehrer.

And Romney virtually lectured Obama at one point after the president accused him of seeking to cut education funds. "Mr. President, you're entitled to your own airplane and your own house, but not your own facts."

Romney said he had plans to fix the economy, repeal Obama's health care plan, remake Medicare, pass a substitute for the legislation designed to prevent another financial crash and reduce deficits — but he provided no specifics despite Obama's prodding.

Said Obama: "At some point the American people have to ask themselves: Is the reason Governor Romney is keeping all these plans secret, is it because they're going to be too good? Because middle class families benefit too much? No."

At times the debate turned into rapid-fire charges and retorts that drew on dense facts and figures that were difficult to follow. The men argued over oil industry subsidies, federal spending as a percentage of the GDP, Medicare cuts, taxes and small businesses and the size of the federal deficit and how it grew.

Obama sometimes seemed somewhat professorial. Romney was more assertive and didn't hesitate to interrupt the president or the moderator.

Despite the wonky tone of the debate, Romney managed to make some points by personalizing his comments with recollections of people he said he had met on the campaign trail. In another folksy reference, Romney told Lehrer, a veteran of the Public Broadcasting Service, that he would stop the federal subsidy to PBS even though "I love Big Bird."

Generally polite but pointed, the two men agreed about little if anything.

Obama said his opponent's plan to reduce all tax rates by 20 percent would cost $5 trillion and benefit the wealthy at the expense of middle income taxpayers.

Shot back Romney: "Virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate."

The former Massachusetts governor and businessman added that Obama's proposal to allow the expiration of tax cuts on upper-level income would mean tax increases on small businesses that create jobs by the hundreds of thousands.

The two campaign rivals clasped hands and smiled as they strode onto the debate stage at the University of Denver, then waved to the audience before taking their places behind identical lecterns.

There was a quick moment of laughter, when Obama referred to first lady Michelle Obama as "sweetie" and noted it was their 20th anniversary.

Romney added best wishes, and said to the first couple, "I'm sure this is the most romantic place you could imagine, here with me."

Both candidates' wives were in the audience.

The two men will meet twice more this month, and their running mates once, but in past election years, viewership has sometimes fallen off after the first encounter.

Without saying so, the two rivals quickly got to the crux of their race — Romney's eagerness to turn the contest into a referendum on the past four years while the incumbent desires for voters to choose between his plan for the next four years and the one his rival backs.

Romney ticked off the dreary economic facts of life — a sharp spike in food stamps, economic growth "lower this year than last" and "23 million people out of work or stropped looking for work."

But Obama criticized Romney's prescriptions and his refusal to raise taxes and said, "if you take such an unbalanced approach then that means you are going to be gutting our investment in schools and education ... health care for seniors in nursing homes (and) for kids with disabilities."

Not surprisingly, the two men disagreed over Medicare, a flash point since Romney placed Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan on his ticket.

The president repeatedly described Romney's plan as a "voucher program" that would raise out-of-pocket costs on seniors.

He continued, directly addressing the voters at home: "If you're 54 or 55 you might want to listen because this will affect you."

Romney said he doesn't support any changes for current retirees or those close to retirement.

"If you're 60 or 60 and older you don't need to listen further," he said, but he contended that fundamental changes are needed to prevent the system from becoming insolvent as millions of baby boom generation Americans become eligible.

Romney also made a detailed case for repealing Obamacare, the name attached to the health care plan that Obama pushed through Congress in 2010. "It has killed jobs," he said, and argued that the best approach is to "do what we did in my state."

Though he didn't say so, when he was governor Massachusetts passed legislation that required residents to purchase coverage — the so-called individual mandate that conservatives and he oppose on a national level.

Romney also said that Obamacare would cut $716 billion from Medicare over the next decade.

The president said the changes were part of a plan to lengthen the program's life, and he added that AARP, the seniors lobby, supports it.

Jim Lehrer of PBS drew moderator's duties, with Obama getting the first question and Romney the last word.

Five weeks before Election Day, early voting is under way in scattered states and beginning in more every day. Opinion polls show Obama with an advantage nationally and in most if not all of the battleground states where the race is most likely to be decided.

That put particular pressure on Romney to come up with a showing strong enough to alter the course of the campaign.

The sputtering economy served as the debate backdrop, as it has for virtually everything else in the 2012 campaign for the White House. Obama took office in the shadow of an economic crisis but promised a turnaround that hasn't materialized. Economic growth has been sluggish throughout his term, with unemployment above 8 percent since before he took office.

The customary security blended with a festival-like atmosphere in the surrounding area on a warm and sunny day. The Lumineers performed for free, and Black Eyed Peas frontman will.i.am delivered a pep talk of sorts to Obama's supporters. School officials arranged to show the debate on monitors outside the hall for those without tickets.

There was local political theater, too, including female Romney supporters wearing short shorts and holding signs that said, "What War On Women?" — a rebuttal to claims by Obama and the Democrats.

Both campaigns engaged in a vigorous pre-debate competition to set expectations, each side suggesting the other had built-in advantages.

Romney took part in 19 debates during the campaign for the Republican primary early in the year. The president has not been onstage with a political opponent since his last face-to-face encounter with Arizona Sen. John McCain, his Republican rival in 2008.

Obama and Romney prepared for the evening with lengthy practice sessions. Romney selected Ohio Sen. Rob Portman as a stand-in for the president; Obama turned to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry to play the Republican role.

The two presidential rivals also are scheduled to debate on Oct. 16 in Hempstead, N.Y., and Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.

Vice President Joe Biden and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin have one debate, Oct. 11 in Danville, Ky. Both men have already begun holding practice sessions.


Associated Press writer Kristen Wyatt contributed to this story. David Espo reported from Washington.

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Kuniarr wrote:
Romney is in for a big disappointment because Obama is excellent in a debate.
on October 3,2012 | 02:37PM
DAGR81 wrote:
Pretty sad when a BS artist can be elected President of this great nation.
on October 3,2012 | 03:16PM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
That's right. How's all that hope and change working for the country? Everyone bought those lines, no one bothered to ask "what KIND OF change"? Every recession but the most recent one has been followed by a sharp recovery within a year and a half, and generally strong rebound thereafter. This recession hasn't, what does that tell you about Obama? All talk and no show. WSJ had an article about as much previously.
on October 3,2012 | 04:06PM
Pacej001 wrote:
Given Romney's performance, do you want to revise your pre-debate statement\?
on October 3,2012 | 05:24PM
pastormatt wrote:
Obama was not good in the debate. Every news commentator gives this debate to Romney. Romney appears to have his act together and have an actual plan to deal with the dire straights we are in. It wasn't just that Obama lost, he was embarrassed of what he did not know and his frustration of what he hasn't done.
on October 3,2012 | 08:37PM
al_kiqaeda wrote:
CNN's unshakable love for Obama seems to have dulled considerably. Their post debate poll showed that Romney won the debate 67% to 25%. Stunning when you consider that the sample of debate-watchers in the poll was 37% Democratic and 33% Republican.

Obama might still win with the electoral college, but he isn't going to bulldoze he way through this election. Now it's Obama's turn to carry all the baggage. Dubyah must have been laughing all through the debatel

on October 4,2012 | 12:29AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Your comment was a bit premature. The debate is over and the jury has rendered its verdict. Obama got his back side kicked badly. That is even the verdict of democrat pundits from across the country.
on October 3,2012 | 09:46PM
allie wrote:
Romney is a real lightweight
on October 3,2012 | 03:26PM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
Even if your comment were true, who cares? Anyone but Barry....
on October 3,2012 | 04:07PM
Pacej001 wrote:
The debate was a clear Romney win. Does that make Obama a lighter weight?
on October 3,2012 | 05:25PM
64hoo wrote:
not after the debate obama ended up being a featherweight worse than a lightweight. get your mind out of the obama gutter.
on October 3,2012 | 06:38PM
DAGR81 wrote:
Who are you to judge.
on October 3,2012 | 08:58PM
tiki886 wrote:
It's 4:25pm and Capitalism is winning over Communism.
on October 3,2012 | 04:24PM
tiki886 wrote:
I'm learning that Communism doesn't work when you don't have a teleprompter.
on October 3,2012 | 04:28PM
312guy wrote:
tiki 886: Rommney did not answer the voucher question and reminded me of Bush it's my way and I won't let you talk and mr moderator your fired!!!! big bird your fired!!!! lol no more sesame street. I can't make money from PBS.lol
on October 3,2012 | 06:04PM
pastormatt wrote:
There wasn't a voucher question. Lehrer summed it up with "you both will give the voter options" both suggesting a solution that is inclusive and exclusive.
on October 3,2012 | 08:40PM
312guy wrote:
big bird is to expensive to feed he's fired! who's communist now! Mr moderator watch what you say.... no your fired!!! your PBS cant make any money on you are out sourced LOL
on October 3,2012 | 06:34PM
tiki886 wrote:
You have dozens and dozens of MILLIONAIRES working for PBS and NPR such as Bill Moyers who made his millions off of taxpayers. If he was to go into the private sector to earn a living he would need government welfare because no one would sponsor his Left Wing Liberal Crap. If it wasn't for government welfare, PBS and NPR might go belly up like so many COMMUNIST programs!
on October 3,2012 | 10:26PM
niimi wrote:
President Obama looked like Gerald Ford did--unsure, searching for words, stuttering on occasion. Obana's mind seemed aloof, almost distracted.
on October 3,2012 | 11:40PM
al_kiqaeda wrote:
President Obama looked like the boxing champ that didn't take a contender seriously enough to train hard and got bloodied up in the corner.
on October 4,2012 | 12:11AM
tiki886 wrote:
Watch the Liberals go bonkers on MSNBC! Ha, ha, ha...very, very entertaining. I can't stop laughing. I'm going to sleep with a big smile on my face knowing Communism has been defeated!
on October 3,2012 | 04:52PM
ya_think wrote:
Chris Matthews is having a cow right now on msnbc, along with the other so called host. He is telling everyone that msnbc is the only network that tells the truth. What a j erk.
on October 3,2012 | 06:20PM
ISCREAM wrote:
Romney was clearly the winner of this debate...he looked and sounded "Presidential" while President Obama, without his teleprompter, was floundering and unprepared.
on October 3,2012 | 05:19PM
niimi wrote:
You make an excellent point. I recently rewatched Obama's 2004 Democratic National Convention speech. Wow! With prepared material President Obama is up there with the best. He really is a polished speaker. But it showed that Governor Romney was clearly better prepared for the debates this evening. And agreed, Governor Romney sounded more like a United States President this evening. I'm curious how both will handle the town hall format coming up on, is it October 16? I'm curious to hear each candidate's position on foreign policy though this next debate is on both. I think the final debate is on foreign policy.
on October 3,2012 | 05:30PM
pastormatt wrote:
Excellent comment and I will be watching for the same reason. Honestly, I can't see Obama doing much better due to the fact that foreign relations right now are horrible. Romney can say, "look at how bad you're doing" and not have any skeletons in his closet. This seems to be a downward spiral for Obama, but we'll see.
on October 3,2012 | 08:42PM
niimi wrote:
Wow! Obama looked unsure at times. Romney seemed comfortable, polished and on the offensive. President Obama got in his points about Romney not having as detailed a plan. But Obama really backpedaled a lot on health care. Romney seemed to have a tighter, more focused closing argument than President Obama. Both are excellent speakers. Gosh, can you imagine trying to prepare for one of these debates where your entire team is trying to cram all these facts and points into your head, hoping that you'd be able to recall it at just the right moment? It was a fun debate to watch on both sides.
on October 3,2012 | 05:25PM
tiki886 wrote:
The reason Obama was LIMP on ObamaCare is because he claimed it was modeled on Romney's health care program in Massachusetts. How are you going to debate the AUTHOR of a program 'you' copied? Romney said it is for STATES to implement, not the Federal Government to dictate what is good for all 50 States.

Each individual State is a laboratory in Democracy.

on October 3,2012 | 09:21PM
niimi wrote:
The real critical issues in domestic policy to me are an alarmingly high and sustained deficit spending level; job creation. Our sitting president campaigned on cutting deficit spending in half, with Obama having cited his predecessor--GW Bush--spending an alarming $2.4 Trillion in 8 years in office. Well, President Obama's 4 year term shows spending of over $5 Trillion in just 4 years. That is actually a quadrupling of the spending rate over the Bush Administration. Otherwise, Obama would have overspent by only $1.2 Trillion in 4 years if that were the case. As it turns our, President Obama overspent by over $1.2 Trillion--EACH YEAR! Job creation really comes from private industry, and that stagnated. President Obama can't continue this current ways and means--it leaves me with very little faith in President Obama's domestic policy leadership. I would have accepted someone else running against President Obama on the Democratic ticket, but no one stepped forward. And I didn't hear anything different from President Obama tonight to tell me that his policies would change for the better. The next debates are on October 16th. I'll be watching.
on October 3,2012 | 05:36PM
64hoo wrote:
people have to remenber why bush got us in that defecit most of it happened in the 9/11 attack on world trade center so we had to spend alot of taxpayer money for all this airport security thats why the defecit went up because of the attack on our country he did not spend money on the dems pork barrel projects. as i see it i don't blame bust for his defecit, i blame it on the attack on our country.
on October 3,2012 | 06:29PM
niimi wrote:
You make an interesting point to raise 9/11 as a catalyzing event. I remember the economy following 9/11, and it wasn't just slow; the entire country just, lacking a better phrase, shut down. It took a speech by Bush to say, "Hey folks, it is OK to move on with your lives. I'd argue the economy was in as bad a shape given the tech bubble was a false economy of sort, and there was substantial job losses starting in 2000. Then the World Trade Center events pushed the economy down further again. Still, the Federal Deficits from years 2002 through 2007 weren't overly high.
on October 3,2012 | 11:27PM
purigorota wrote:
Looks like the community picnic organizer had a bad night.
on October 3,2012 | 05:45PM
64hoo wrote:
i remember 4 years ago on the obama debate he said former pres. bush put us in a 4 trillion dollor deficit and said he would cut it in half but now here we are 4 years later and obama now put us in a 6 trillion dolor deficit so it took bush 8 years to put us at a 4 trillion defecit ,and it took obama 4 years to put 6 trillion more in our defecit. now we have a 10 trillion defecit and he tries to blame bush still yet. what a liar obama is.
on October 3,2012 | 05:58PM
niimi wrote:
Yes. I posted on this as well. Obama is actually overspending at a rate 4 times what Bush's administration did in totality.
on October 3,2012 | 11:28PM
magicman1433 wrote:
How many Romney supporters believe he can beat Obama? Obama will win in November...
on October 3,2012 | 06:21PM
hawaiikone wrote:
Keep hoping, but it ain't gonna happen. This nation gave Obama a chance, and he didn't produce. Aloha.
on October 3,2012 | 07:28PM
magicman1433 wrote:
We'll see...
on October 3,2012 | 07:57PM
Paulh808 wrote:
Keep dreaming!
on October 3,2012 | 10:50PM
niimi wrote:
6 polls came out and 4 showed Romney had pulled within a statistical dead heat. This is a really fascinating race. The numbers keep swaying--exciting to watch! Obama had strong presence in the polls in 2008 and actually kept that lead over McCain. This is altogether different. Truly engaging to watch.
on October 3,2012 | 11:44PM
al_kiqaeda wrote:
CNN's broadcast had a live running poll of undecided Colorado voters and I would say Romney was pounding Obama. Women tended to be Obama's biggest supporters, but Romney had both sexes pulling for him.
on October 4,2012 | 12:14AM
ISCREAM wrote:
He could win...and we could have a recession in 2013 because of QE3...
on October 3,2012 | 08:57PM
niimi wrote:
Actually, it should not be called QE3, it should instead be called QE4ever.
on October 3,2012 | 11:37PM
niimi wrote:
Not a supporter yet but Obama's record isn't the only issue, but the polls have been wild in all but two elections since 1960. Gosh, 1980 the media polls showed Carter strongly ahead of Reagan by 5% right at the close of the DNC. Then in mid-October Carter had extending his lead in the polls to over 8%. Yet the popular vote was a runaway for Reagan by almost 9 Million votes. And the Electoral Vote was a landslide--Reagan won by an order of magnitude--10 times the number of Electoral votes for Reagan versus Carter. We even saw the media get the Hanemann Abercrombie polls way wrong. Mufi had this big lead that vaporized. Then it happened again in the seat for the House with Mufi having this big lead in the polls only to get trounced by Tulsi Gabbard. And history has not been kind to the incumbent the past 100 years.
on October 3,2012 | 11:36PM
808comp wrote:
.Obama looked like he was not comfortable being there,and on the other hand Romney looked real relaxed,and well prepared. Romney won big time tonight.
on October 3,2012 | 06:37PM
magicman1433 wrote:
Obama will win big time in November.
on October 3,2012 | 06:50PM
64hoo wrote:
obama won't win if you vote him out so if you love the USA you will vote for romney if you hate the USA then vote for the marxist socialist liberial dictator obama your choice, love america or hate it. you make the vote.
on October 3,2012 | 07:21PM
koa26 wrote:
Romney hit it out of the park! He showed confidence, leadership, and knowledge of the issues. Our country needs him at this critical time in our history.
on October 3,2012 | 07:04PM
niimi wrote:
Romney's close sounded like Reagan just a bit. Interesting.
on October 3,2012 | 11:45PM
al_kiqaeda wrote:
Thanks niimi. Okay...so I wasn't the only one quietly thinking that. He did have the Grampa Ron feel didn't he? It would be nice to have Ronnie back in the office!
on October 4,2012 | 12:33AM
chuck4664 wrote:
shock, i was prepared like many how obama would out debate romney. was the opposite, obama was not prepared.
on October 3,2012 | 07:09PM
tiki886 wrote:
The magic teleprompter is like putting lipstick on a pig.
on October 3,2012 | 08:15PM
atilter wrote:
from what i saw - the weakest link was the "moderator" and his inability to adhere to and/or enforce the agreed rules of the "debate"...if what we saw were the agreed rules of engagement, then the potus' team was not effective in their negotiations! the substance of the discussions did not change significantly - if one can understand that the challenger must be the more aggressive participant...the changes in tone and direction had to be different from what was previously espoused in order to make any inroad against the current poll margin...clearly the potus is not a trained martial artist in being able to nimbly parry and decisively counter.
on October 3,2012 | 08:08PM
ISCREAM wrote:
As it was intended by the format...That was the beauty of the debate...the moderator is not there to direct the answers...you got what they truly believe. No softballs for one or the other....that is why the MSM didn't want this more open format...the people win...
on October 3,2012 | 08:59PM
sukebesan wrote:
Obama, Hirono, Hanabusa, Gabbard, Caldwell, and the Oahu HART Rail Project are going down for the count on November 6, together with the Democratic Party's control of the U.S. Senate.
on October 3,2012 | 08:48PM
IAmSane wrote:
Hahahahahaha... thanks for the laugh.
on October 3,2012 | 09:57PM
tiki886 wrote:
Stick an "IN" in between your name.
on October 3,2012 | 10:15PM
niimi wrote:
Hope and change become Dope and Rage in just 4 years, it seems.
on October 3,2012 | 11:38PM
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