DENVER, CO., Oct. 4, 2012 – President Barack Obama and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney went head to head last night in their first official debate, taking the stage at the University of Denver and responding to domestic policy questions. With Obama leading in most of the national polls, Romney needed to deliver a strong performance to rally his base and attract votes from that small portion of the electorate that appears to be yet undecided.

Romney did, indeed, deliver. He looked confident, prepared and fired up, compared to President Obama’s polite, but surprisingly lackluster performance that left him at times to be searching for rebuttal lines.

Noticeably absent was any reference to attack lines that Obama has consistently used during campaign swings across the country, including a reference to the “47 percent” comment that Romney made during an off-the-record fundraising event that was secretly videotaped.

Even liberal commentator Chris Matthews complained about the President’s performance on MSNBC last night, noting: “What was Romney doing? He was winning!”

Comedian and HBO host Bill Maher, who donated $1 million to the Obama campaign, tweeted: “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Obama looks like he does need a teleprompter.”

CNN polled debate watchers immediately after the event and found that 67% said Gov. Romney won the debate, compared to 25% for the President.

On Fox News, conservative pollster Frank Luntz conducted a 24-person focus group in a Denver suburb after the debate, and 21 one of those thought Gov. Romney won. Thirteen out of the group had voted for Obama in 2008.  Romney’s comments about holding regular Monday meetings and working across the aisle with Democrats, who controlled 87 percent of the Massaschusetts legislature while he was Governor, seemed to score especially well with focus group participants.

But whether this first of three presidential debates will translate into actually changing the dynamics of the race remains to be seen with just 32 days before the general election. Over 50 million viewers tuned in and it was the most tweeted event in political history, according to Twitter, generating a record 10.3 million tweets during the 90-minute debate.

For those looking for substance, there was plenty offered during the 90-minute debate, as moderator Jim Lehrer tried to coax each candidate to pinpoint differences in their domestic policies. There were not any big game-changing moments from the points made, but distinctly different approaches were outlined.

Both agreed they want to bring tax rates down, with Obama touting cuts for middle-class families. Romney offered a few more details regarding how he would reduce tax rates for both corporations and individuals, while capping tax deductions at a yet-to-be-determined level.

President Omaba criticized Romney for proposing what he described as a $5 trillion tax cut on top of an additional $2 trillion for the military, while not identifying the loopholes and deductions he would eliminate in order to pay for those changes. He pointed to independent studies showing that Romney’s plan would burden middle-class families with paying about $2,000 more.

Romney accused the President of skewing his position, emphasizing that a $5 trillion tax cut is not his plan.

“I know it’s a popular thing to say with a lot of people,” Romney added. “Look, I’ve got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true, but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it. But that’s not the case. I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income individuals.”

There were several references to natural resource issues. Romney pointed out that all of the increase in natural gas and oil happened on private, not government land and that the Obama Administration cut the number of permits and licenses in half. Romeny vowed to double them and bring the Keystone XL pipeline in from Canada.

“And by the way, I like coal,” Romney added. “I want to get America and North America energy independent so we can create those jobs.”

Obama agreed that both men want to boost energy production, including oil and natural gas.

“But I also believe that we’ve got to look at the energy sources of the future, like wind, solar and biofuels, and make those investments,” Obama emphasized.

When asked about plans to reduce the deficit, Romney said he would eliminate all programs except those that are “so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it.” Romney said Obamacare is on his list, as well as the federal subsidy for PBS, the public broadcast channel where moderator Lehrer works.

“I love PBS. I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too,” Romney noted in reference to Lehrer. “But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China.” Romney also pledged to make government more efficient, by reducing the number of employees through attrition and combining some agencies and departments. But he didn’t name which ones.

Obama pointed to 77 government programs, everything from aircrafts to education, that weren’t working well and have been cut under his watch, taking “$50 billion of waste” out of the system.” He also touted his $4 trillion deficit reduction plan that would, for every $2.50 in cuts, ask for $1 in additional revenue from top earners.

For the full transcript of the debate:


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