Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts Governor and presidential hopeful struck a strong note on Wednesday and appeared to dominate the first presidential debate here at Denver University, leaving his opponent, President Barack Obama defending on the back foot. However neither man landed a finishing blow.
The debate, the first in a series of three in which the two men will square off on key issues of domestic and international concern, saw Mr Romney challenge the White House incumbent on the economy and job creation, and then questions of tax policy, entitlements, the deficit, healthcare and the proper role of government.
Post-debate commentary appeared to focus on Mr Obama’s apparent lack of punching power, including the fact that he did not allude to Mr Romney’s damaging “47 per cent” comment even under a segment called “entitlements.” Neither did he make any direct mention of Mr Romney’s involvement with Bain Capital, or seek to link him to predatory capitalist activities as some had done in the past.
At numerous points Mr Romney appeared to even dominate the moderator of the debate, PBS anchor Jim Lehrer, arguing, successfully on several occasions, for more time. When he got it, he pressed the President further, charging him at one point with “trickle-down government.”
However Mr Obama scored several key points too, particularly when he sought to debunk the notion that Mr Romney could create a $5 trillion tax cut without either increasing the deficit or requiring middle class families to pick up the tab. In doing so Mr Obama echoed former President Bill Clinton’s now-famous war-cry from the Democratic National Convention, “It’s arithmetic!”
At several points Mr Obama looked directly into the camera and cautioned the American people that they ought to question what alternative plans Mr Romney had since he had proposed to repeal healthcare and financial reform laws passed under the current administration.
This point in particular would appear to resonate with some outside the debate venue. Speaking to The Hindu, Onkar Singh (20) and Raman Kaur (20), both students of Denver University and residents of Denver suburb Aurora, said that although it was “a huge thing” that Mr Obama had passed healthcare reform, he needed four more years to fulfil his policy agenda.
Contrarily regarding Mr Romney Mr Singh noted, “While Mr. Romney has said all the things we’d want to hear, he hasn’t shown how he’d do it, for example how he’d create 12 million new jobs.” The same was true for his running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan, Mr Singh added.
Set in the heart of the University of Denver Campus, the debate comprising six 15-minute segments began with Mr. Obama, who took the opportunity to wish his wife a happy anniversary. Although it was for the most part an intense, often pedantic exchange of jabs relating to the economy and the tax code, there were some lighter moments.
At one point in the discussion of healthcare reform Mr Romney said “Is the program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I'll get rid of it. ObamaCare's on my list.” He added, “I apologise, Mr President. I use that term with all respect, by the way.” Mr Obama responded to the use of the phrase, saying, “I like it.”
In their closing remarks Mr Obama sought to step back and make a broader case for why he ought to be re-elected. He said that it was time to build on the hard work of his first presidency over the next four years, adding that while he was “not perfect,” he promised to fight as hard for the American people he’d done in the past.
Mr Romney however persisted with the attack on Mr Obama’s governance record in his final statement, vowing that if he were elected to the White House he would not allow over-regulation to kill off, for example, Medicare. “If the president were to be re-elected, you would see a $716 billion cut to Medicare,” Mr Romney noted, adding that four million people would also lose Medicare Advantage and the military would see “dramatic cuts.”