Our View: Romney takes Round 1
Often, little is gleaned from presidential debates, but Wednesday night's clash offered a revealing contrast between the Democratic and Republican nominees. For the first time this campaign season, President Barack Obama seemed defensive, back on his heels, while Mitt Romney appeared to be in his element, in control.
As MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews said moments after the debate concluded, President Barack Obama "was enduring the debate rather than fighting it" and Romney "was winning."
Obama and Romney, on stage at the University of Denver, jousted on domestic policy issues, including the role of government, education, tax policies, health care and Social Security.
Much of the debate focused on pocketbook issues, those policies that impact the finances of individuals and families. If this presidential race becomes a pocketbook election, it then turns into a referendum on the Obama presidency. The first 45 minutes of the debate was spent discussing the economy, according to The Hill newspaper's website.
Romney described his opponent's presidency as one mired by "trickle-down government," essentially an approach that sees government as the driver of prosperity as opposed to the private sector. Obama attempted to reject the big-government label, saying, "The genius of America is the free-enterprise system."
Obama seemed tired and less relaxed, employing rhetoric similar to previous speeches. He also failed to defend and clarify his positions, unlike Romney did when the president criticized the Republican's tax policies, accusing him of planning to "cut taxes, skewed towards the wealthy," which would add to the deficit. Romney responded that "there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit" and no planned tax reduction for the richest Americans. Romney fired back, stating that "under the president's policies, middle-income Americans have been buried."
This debate may turn out to be a turning point in the electoral race. Romney has run a careful campaign up until this first face-to-face encounter. He was more forceful and assertive but not offensively aggressive.
"Mitt Romney tonight was in his wheelhouse," noted left-leaning commentator Ed Shultz on MSNBC. "I was disappointed with the president."
Whether the debate will move more of the electorate behind Romney, particularly in the handful of states that most pundits say will decide the winner, is yet to be seen, but the former Massachusetts governor seemed at or near the top of his game. He defined himself, rather than allowing his opponent to characterize him, for tens of millions of voters watching.