Mitt Romney battled back in his uphill drive to oust President Barack Obama on Wednesday with an aggressive debate performance that put his campaign on a more positive footing after weeks of stumbles and knocked Obama off-stride.
In the first of three presidential debates this month, Romney went
beyond expectations as the two candidates stood side-by-side for the
first time after months of campaigning against each other from long
Looking to claw his way back into a race that has seen Obama hold an
edge among voters, Romney was on the offensive throughout the 90-minute
encounter with Obama. While the president landed some punches on
Romney’s tax plan, he did not appear as prepared as his rival and missed
several opportunities to attack.
With under five weeks to go until the November 6 election, it was
uncertain whether Romney had managed to change the trajectory of a race
that has favoured Obama. It is difficult to dislodge an incumbent from
the White House. In recent weeks, Romney has lurched from stumble to
stumble and been unable to project a consistent message.
“How does it translate into the horse race? That’s unclear,” said
Steven Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College in
Minnesota. “Romney should have some momentum. The question is whether he
can maintain it.”
But there was no question that Romney’s campaign felt it was now in a
better position. In the “spin room” afterward, Romney advisers hung
around for 90 minutes talking to reporters, long after the Obama side
A CNN/ORC snap poll said 67 percent of registered voters surveyed
thought Romney won the debate at the University of Denver, compared with
25 percent for Obama.
Romney and Obama clashed repeatedly over taxes, healthcare and the
role of government in ways that reflected the deep ideological divide in
Washington and that has contributed to political gridlock.
Romney zeroed in on weak economic growth and 8.1 percent unemployment
that have left Obama vulnerable in his effort to win a second four-year
term. Government has taken on too big a role under Obama, dampening job
creation, Romney argued.
“What we’re seeing right now, in my view, (is) a trickle-down
government approach, which has government thinking it can do a better
job than free people pursuing their dreams. And it’s not working. And
the proof of that is 23 million people out of work,” Romney said.
Fact checkers took issue with some of assertions by the former
Massachusetts governor, like the number of people unemployed, but he
appeared more poised and better prepared than his opponent.
Obama argued that under his leadership, the economy had been brought
back from the brink, with 5 million jobs created in the private sector, a
resurgent auto industry and housing beginning to rise.
“You know, four years ago, we were going through a major crisis. And
yet my faith and confidence in the American future is undiminished,”
NO MENTION OF THE ’47 PERCENT’
Mysteriously, Obama failed to mention issues his campaign has used in
attack ads to damage Romney such as the Republican’s now infamous “47
percent” video, job cuts he made while at Bain Capital private equity
firm, his tax returns and previous hard line on immigration.
The debate saw no haymaker punches thrown and not much in the way of
memorable one-line zingers. Instead, it was a war of attrition as each
man used facts and figures to make his points and stress the differences
Romney, however, did himself some favours with crisper answers than
Obama, who sounded professorial and a bit long-winded despite his
staff’s best efforts to get him to give snappier comments.
Quite often Obama looked downward at his notes as Romney pounced on
the president’s record. At one point, the Democrat quibbled with debate
moderator Jim Lehrer who tried to cut him off for going over his
“I had five seconds before you interrupted me,” Obama said to Lehrer with a smile.
Romney’s chances of winning the White House were up by 8.4 percentage
points after the debate, although he was still only 34.3 percent
assured of victory in November, according to online betting site
The incumbent did put Romney on the defensive about his proposals for
overhauling the U.S. tax system with a 20 percent across-the-board tax
cut. Obama said it would cost the government $5 trillion and that it
would be impossible to make up this amount by eliminating tax loopholes
as the Republican talks about.
“The fact is that if you are lowering the rates the way you
described, Governor, then it is not possible to come up with enough
deductions and loopholes that only affect high-income individuals to
avoid either raising the deficit or burdening the middle class. It’s –
it’s math. It’s arithmetic,” Obama said.
Romney insisted his tax plan would not cost $5 trillion, saying, “Virtually everything he said about my tax plan is inaccurate.”
Obama also reminded Americans that Romney was proposing more of the
same kind of tax cuts that Obama’s Republican predecessor, former
President George W. Bush, pushed through Congress in 2001 and 2003. Most
Americans are willing to concede that Obama inherited an economic mess,
but also believe it is his responsibility to bring back the economy.
“We ended up moving from surpluses to deficits and it all culminated
with the worst recession since the Great Depression,” said Obama.
In the face of attacks from Romney that the Obama healthcare overhaul
of 2010 will hurt small-business hiring, Obama basically said his
healthcare plan was modelled after the program Romney put in place as
governor of Massachusetts, and it “hasn’t destroyed jobs” there.
After arguing for months that the Wall Street regulation legislation
known as “Dodd-Frank” should be repealed, Romney was forced to concede
under pressure from Obama that he would keep some financial regulations
established under the law.
ROMNEY NEEDED VICTORY MORE
Romney was in need of a victory in the debate to help him put his campaign back on a positive footing after a rocky few weeks.
He was damaged by a hidden-camera videotape in which he said 47
percent of voters were dependent on government and unlikely to support
him. That was among several stumbles that have knocked Romney’s campaign
Obama, holding a slight lead in national polls and leading Romney in
some swing states where the election will be decided, was looking in the
debate to avoid harming his position as the apparent front-runner.
But he may have spent too much time trying to avoid making mistakes and let Romney get the better of him.
The debate was the best opportunity to date to reach large numbers of
voters in an unfiltered way, with an estimated television audience of
60 million possible.
Advisers to both Romney and Obama predictably said their man emerged
victorious. Obama adviser David Plouffe told reporters in the spin room
that Romney appeared “testy” at times.
As for Obama’s lengthy comments, his campaign manager Jim Messina said, “That’s never going to be our strong suit.”
Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom said if the debate had been a prize
fight, the referee would have called it for Romney an hour in.
The debate was the first of three such face-offs scheduled in the
next four weeks. Biden and Romney’s running mate, U.S. Representative
Paul Ryan, will debate once, on October 11.
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