Romney Charges Out of the Gate in First Debate

Romney Charges Out of the Gate in First Debate

By Scott Conroy - October 4, 2012

DENVER -- For weeks, Mitt Romney has spent precious time off the campaign trail huddling with top aides to prepare for his first debate against President Obama.

That time-management decision appears to have paid off, as the former Massachusetts governor delivered a poised and confident performance Wednesday night against his Democratic opponent, who often seemed distant and reserved on the debate stage.

“Look, the reason I’m in this race is because there are people that are really hurting today in this country,” Romney said, his voice inflected with passion, after a brief interjection by moderator Jim Lehrer. “And Republicans and Democrats both love America. But we need to have leadership -- leadership in Washington that will actually bring people together and get the job done and could not care less if it's a Republican or a Democrat. I've done it before. I'll do it again.”

Romney was intent on seizing this first face-off to change the direction of a race in which he has fallen behind Obama in most national polls and is lagging even farther back in several key swing states -- most precariously in Ohio.

Though media reports had created an expectation that Romney would issue a few well-timed “zingers” to win the sound-bite battle, the debate instead was steeped in a wonky and even-keeled policy discourse that has largely been absent from both candidates’ attack ads and the daily fascinations of the modern media cycle.

While Obama laid out his case for re-election by methodically contrasting his economic plan with Romney’s, the president did not once mention the secretly recorded and recently leaked video of Romney speaking about the “47 percent” of Americans whom the Republican candidate said would not vote for him nor take charge of their own lives because they are “dependent” on government.

That omission by the president was a major surprise, considering that Romney’s remarks have been a major component of Obama’s recent messaging over the airwaves and on the stump.

Obama also declined to attack Romney over the Republican’s business background at Bain Capital and his refusal to release additional personal income tax returns -- two other lines of attack that have defined the incumbent’s approach over the airwaves.

Instead, Obama acknowledged that his presidency thus far has been an imperfect one and he framed the election as a choice between two distinct visions for the country.

“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?” Obama asked. “And I'm looking forward to having that debate.”

Choosing to interject only sporadically when the candidates went over their allotted time (which occurred repeatedly), Lehrer largely allowed the candidates to challenge each other in a freewheeling domestic policy discussion focused on the economy, health care, and the nation’s long-term fiscal health.

Obama accused Romney of favoring massive tax cuts that favored the wealthy, without offering a plan to pay for them.

“It’s math,” Obama said. “It’s arithmetic.”

The charge was one that Romney denied strongly in a lengthy back-and-forth exchange.

“First of all, I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut,” Romney said. “I don't have a tax cut of a scale that you're talking about. My view is that we ought to provide tax relief to people in the middle class.”

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

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