Romney dominates presidential debate

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An energetic and aggressive Mitt Romney challenged Barack Obama for “not getting the job done in government”, dominating the president for large parts of their first televised debate of the campaign which covered the economy, taxes and healthcare.

Mr Romney, displaying the desperation of a candidate who went into Wednesday evening behind in the polls, was aggressive in his attacks on Mr Obama for following a policy of what he called “trickle-down government”.

Mr Romney may have opened up problems for himself on policy issues like tax and aged care, taking positions that Obama campaign officials said would play badly with voters in pivotal swing states.

Mr Romney said he would “absolutely” not ask for more revenue, saying budgets were “never” balanced by raising taxes, and insisted that his pledge to cut tax rates by 20 per cent across the board would not lift the deficit.

But if Mr Romney’s aim was to convince the electorate, and the media, that he was still competitive, then his campaign will count the debate as a large success.

“Tens of millions of voters saw him tonight for the first time outside of 30-second attack ads, and got the real measure of the man,” said Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser.

Jim Messina, Mr Obama’s campaign manager, said critics of the president’s low-key performance “had made the same complaints” after his speech at the Democratic party’s Charlotte convention.

“I think the president did exactly what he had to do, which was to talk about the substance of the issues,” he said in the post-debate “spin room”, where advisers to both men lined up to tell journalists why their candidate won the night.

Mr Romney was by far the more engaged debater, often speaking over the moderator, Jim Lehrer, and addressing Mr Obama directly, while the president often looked down and took notes.

“The status quo is not going to cut it,” Mr Romney said.

He also took issue with many of Mr Obama’s criticism, especially of his tax policy, budgets and reforms of Medicare, the government’s aged healthcare programme.

After Mr Obama criticised Mr Romney’s tax cuts of “$5,000bn” which he said would not be paid for, Mr Romney replied: “Virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate.”

Later, in the same vein, he said: “Mr President, you’re entitled to your own aeroplane and your own house, but not your own facts.”

But Mr Obama focused on what he said was the lack of details in Mr Romney policies, a line of attack that his campaign thinks will continue to be fruitful.

“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.”

Mr Obama repeatedly described Mr Romney’s plan to cap the costs of Medicare as a voucher program that would lift costs on seniors, an important part of the Republican voting base.

Mr Romney says his changes would not affect anyone 55 or over, prompting Mr Obama to say: “If you’re 54 or 55 you might want to listen, because this will affect you.”

In his opening statement, Mr Obama said: “Are we going to double down on the top-down economic policies that helped to get us into this mess, or do we embrace a new economic patriotism that says America does best when the middle class does best?”

Mr Romney said Mr Obama had a very similar view to when he ran four years ago, “that bigger government, spending more, taxing more, regulating more – if you will, trickle down government – would work”.

The two are scheduled to have two more debates, in Hempstead, New York, on October 16 and in Boca Raton, Florida, on October 22.

Joe Biden, the vice-president, and Paul Ryan, Mr Romney’s running mate, will debate on October 11, in Danville, Kentucky.

 

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