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Romney Charges Out of the Gate in First Debate

By Scott Conroy - October 4, 2012

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The two opponents later debated their broader philosophies on governing.

Romney accused Obama of favoring a form of “trickle-down government,” while the president suggested that his challenger lacked the life experience that would allow him to identify with the struggles of everyday Americans.

“Governor Romney, I genuinely believe, cares about education,” Obama said. “But when he tells a student that, you know, ‘You should borrow money from your parents to go to college,’ you know, that indicates the degree to which, you know, there may not be as much of a focus on the fact that folks like myself, folks like Michelle, kids probably who attend the University of Denver, just don't have that option.”

From the moment he took the stage at the university, dressed in a navy-blue suit and red tie, Romney made a concerted effort to appear respectful of an opponent that polls show Americans like personally, and he avoided any of the awkward moments that have dogged him during his two runs for the presidency.

While Romney typically looked at the president as his opponent made his case, Obama often stared down at his podium when he wasn’t speaking and in one instance shot back at Lehrer when the moderator informed him his two minutes were up.

“No, I think I had five seconds before you interrupted me,” Obama said.

When the debate turned to health care -- a topic that Romney’s GOP primary foes had for months insisted would sink him in a debate against Obama -- Romney sprinkled his argument for repealing the reform law with personal anecdotes and accused Obama of hampering the economy by focusing on the issue.

“I just don't know how the president could have come into office facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment, an economic crisis at the kitchen table, and spend his energy and passion for two years fighting for Obamacare, instead of fighting for jobs for the American people,” Romney said. “It has killed jobs.”

In response, Obama noted that Romney has been vague in laying out an alternative option that he would replace the health care law with, suggesting that his unwillingness to cite specifics on that and other issues was telling.

“He now says he's going to replace Obamacare and ensure that all the good things that are in it are going to be in there, and you don't have to worry,” Obama said. “And at some point, I think the American people have to ask themselves, ‘Is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans to replace it secret because they're too good? Is it because that somehow middle-class families are going to benefit too much from them?’ ”

The candidates will next square off in a town-hall meeting format at Hofstra University on Oct. 16.

Obama leads Romney by 3.1 percent in the latest RCP average of national polls. From their reaction via email and collective demeanor in the debate spin room, it was clear that Romney’s team expects that gap to diminish soon.

Early indications suggest that may be the case. In a CNN snapshot telephone poll released immediately after the debate, 67 percent of respondents thought that Romney had won the debate, while only 25 percent said that Obama had been the victor.

Thirty-five percent of those who watched the face-off said that they were now more likely to vote for Romney, 18 percent said the same for Obama, and 47 percent said that the debate had not made them more likely to vote for either candidate. 

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at sconroy@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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