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First debate

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Mitt Romney helped himself immensely during the first presidential debate Wednesday night in Denver. He appeared confident and proved articulate in expressing his ideas on the economy, jobs, taxes, health care and other issues.

President Barack Obama was less successful in aiding his re-election cause. He was not as assertive as Mr. Romney and was on the defensive for parts of the 90-minute debate loosely moderated by news anchor Jim Lehrer of PBS.

The debate was substantive and dignified. There were no devastating zingers or cheap shots. Both men had ample time to present their views and policies, and to refute one another, sometimes overriding the moderator’s pleas to stay within the time frame.

But Mr. Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, laid out the themes of his campaign — lower taxes, less regulation of business and the repeal of Obamacare — without strong pushback from the president.

Defenders of President Obama wondered why he did not question Gov. Romney more closely on specifics — for instance, how the Republican would reduce taxes at all income levels without enlarging the deficit. The president questioned his rival and said Mr. Romney was withholding information about his plans, but did not press for more details.

At one point, Mr. Obama argued: “If you believe that we can cut taxes by $5 trillion and add $2 trillion in additional spending that the military is not asking for, and you think that by closing loopholes and deductions for the well-to-do, somehow you will not end up picking up the tab, then Gov. Romney’s plan may work for you.”

Yet Mr. Romney countered: “Virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate. I’m not looking for a $5 trillion tax cut.”

And so the evening went.

Mr. Romney pointed to the weak economy and high unemployment and blamed the president’s policies. “The status quo is not going to cut it,” he predicted.

The president defended his approach to create jobs and grow the economy, comparing it to Bill Clinton’s policies during a time of prosperity. Mr. Obama charged that his opponent would “double down” on economic strategies that, he said, caused the national downturn in the first place. He conceded that the U.S. economy still needed to grow and that many people were out of work, but pledged that his policies would be vindicated during a second term.

Yet the challenger pressed the president in many areas. He began by citing the spike in food stamps, the economic malaise and “23 million people out of work or stopped looking for work.”

Mr. Obama countered that Mr. Romney’s determination not to raise taxes would be “unbalanced,” harming “our investment in schools and education ... health care for seniors in nursing homes (and) for kids with disabilities.”

Gov. Romney criticized the president’s policies, questioning large subsidies for green energy. They clashed on oil industry subsidies, Medicare, federal spending, taxes and the federal deficit.

The debate allowed opportunities for each candidate to express their very different philosophies of government which drive their policies.

Mr. Romney needed a strong debate performance to shake up the race and announce himself to the American people. He succeeded. President Obama needed to defend his policies in light of the sputtering economy. He struggled to do so.

Political analysts gave this debate to the challenger.

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