Election 2012: Obama and Romney face off in first debate


In the first presidential debate, an aggressive Mitt Romney sparred with President Barack Obama over taxes, deficits and strong steps needed to create jobs in a sputtering national economy.

With early voting already under way in dozens of states, Romney was particularly assertive in the 90-minute event moderated by Jim Lehrer, host of PBS News Hour.

“Romney, seemed more prepared,” said senior political science major Darrell Williams, “He didn’t say anything new or effectual, but his debate performance was strong.”

Polling seemed to support the argument that Romney was stronger in this debate.

The economy dominated the evening, as it has the race for the White House all year. Pre-debate opinion polls showed Obama with a slight advantage nationally and in key battleground states

Romney said he had plans to fix the economy, overhaul the tax code, repeal Obama’s health care plan, replace it with a better alternative, remake Medicare, pass a substitute for the legislation designed to prevent another financial crash and reduce deficits – but he provided no new specifics despite Obama’s prodding.

Said Obama: “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?

The idea that Mitt Romney has failed to be specific about his plans is a charge that has been repeatedly leveled against him, but it didn’t seem to hurt his debate performance.

“Mitt Romney seemed like he was avoiding or couldn’t provide any details on what he’s planning on doing in office,” said Morgan Butler, a sophomore mass communication major from Carrollton, Texas. “All he did was talk about what Obama has done.

“At the end of the day though, all he did was tie himself back up with Obama to keep himself in the race,” Butler said.

The tone of the debate was a stark contrast to the harsh, sometimes personal attacks the two men make in person and in multimillion-dollar television advertising. Obama made no mention of Romney’s “47 percent” remarks and Romney did not repeat a key theme from his national convention, Obama’s “you didn’t build that” statement. Generally polite but pointed, the two men agreed about little if anything. 

Without saying so, the two rivals quickly got to the crux of their race – Romney’s eagerness to turn the contest into a referendum on the past four years while the incumbent desires for voters to choose between his plan for the next four years and the one his rival backs. 

Romney ticked off the dreary economic facts of life, while Obama criticized Romney’s refusal to raise taxes and his idea to turn Medicare into a “voucher program”.  

Neither pundits nor the public have any idea what to expect in the next debate. 

“I watched the entire presidential debate and at times I found it irritating and then humorous,” said Tempestt McDuff, a junior mass communication major from Desoto, Texas. “Whether it was Mitt Romney’s refusal to stop talking or the president’s facial expressions.

“I look forward to the next one,” McDuff said.

The two presidential rivals will debate again on Oct. 16 in Hempstead, N.Y., and Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.

Vice President Joe Biden and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin have one debate, Oct. 11 in Danville, Ky. Both men have already begun holding practice sessions.