Obama, Romney clash on economy in first 2012 debate

2012-10-03T22:00:00Z 2012-10-04T19:55:23Z Obama, Romney clash on economy in first 2012 debateThe Associated Press The Associated Press
October 03, 2012 10:00 pm  • 

DENVER — In a showdown at close quarters, President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney sparred aggressively in their first campaign debate Wednesday night over taxes, deficits and strong steps needed to create jobs in a sputtering national economy. "The status quo is not going to cut it," declared the challenger.

Obama in turn accused his rival of seeking to "double down" on economic policies that actually led to the devastating national downturn four years ago — and of evasiveness when it came to prescriptions for tax changes, health care, Wall Street regulation and more.

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 in key battleground states and nationally.

With early voting already under way in dozens of states, Romney was particularly aggressive in the 90-minute event that drew a television audience likely to be counted in the tens of millions — like a man looking to shake up the campaign with a little less than five weeks to run.

The former Massachusetts governor virtually lectured Obama at one point after the president accused him of seeking to cut education funds. "Mr. President, you're entitled to your own airplane and your own house, but not your own facts," he said.

Romney said he had plans to fix the economy, overhaul the tax code, repeal Obama's health care plan and replace 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? Because middle class families benefit too much? No."

The two men debate twice more this month, but they were first going their separate ways on Thursday. Obama had campaign stops in Colorado and then Madison, Wis., while Romney was booked into Virginia. All three states are among the nine battlegrounds likely to settle the race.

At times the debate turned into rapid-fire charges and retorts that drew on dense facts and figures that were difficult to follow. The men argued over oil industry subsidies, federal spending as a percentage of the GDP, Medicare cuts, taxes and small businesses and the size of the federal deficit and how it grew.

Obama sometimes seemed somewhat professorial. Romney was more assertive and didn't hesitate to interrupt the president or moderator Jim Lehrer.

Despite the wonky tone of the debate, Romney managed to make some points by personalizing his comments with recollections of people he said he had met on the campaign trail. In another folksy reference, Romney told Lehrer, a veteran of the Public Broadcasting Service, that he would stop the federal subsidy to PBS even though "I love Big Bird."

Generally polite but pointed, the two men agreed about little if anything.

Obama said his opponent's plan to reduce all tax rates by 20 percent would cost $5 trillion and benefit the wealthy at the expense of middle income taxpayers.

Shot back Romney: "Virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate."

The former Massachusetts governor and businessman added that Obama's proposal to allow the expiration of tax cuts on upper-level income would mean tax increases on small businesses that create jobs by the hundreds of thousands.

The two campaign rivals clasped hands and smiled as they strode onto the debate stage at the University of Denver, then waved to the audience before taking their places behind identical lecterns.

There was a quick moment of laughter, when Obama referred to first lady Michelle Obama as "sweetie" and noted it was their 20th anniversary.

Romney added best wishes, and said to the first couple, "I'm sure this is the most romantic place you could imagine, here with me."

Both candidates' wives were in the audience.

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 — a sharp spike in food stamps, economic growth "lower this year than last" and "23 million people out of work or stropped looking for work."

But Obama criticized Romney's prescriptions and his refusal to raise taxes and said, "if you take such an unbalanced approach then that means you are going to be gutting our investment in schools and education ... health care for seniors in nursing homes (and) for kids with disabilities."

Not surprisingly, the two men disagreed over Medicare, a flash point since Romney placed Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan on his ticket.

The president repeatedly described Romney's plan as a "voucher program" that would raise out-of-pocket costs on seniors.

He continued, directly addressing the voters at home: "If you're 54 or 55 you might want to listen because this will affect you."

Romney said he doesn't support any changes for current retirees or those close to retirement.

"If you're 60 or 60 and older you don't need to listen further," he said, but he contended that fundamental changes are needed to prevent the system from becoming insolvent as millions of baby boom generation Americans become eligible.

Romney also made a detailed case for repealing Obamacare, the name attached to the health care plan that Obama pushed through Congress in 2010. "It has killed jobs," he said, and argued that the best approach is to "do what we did in my state."

Though he didn't say so, when he was governor Massachusetts passed legislation that required residents to purchase coverage — the so-called individual mandate that conservatives and he oppose on a national level.

Romney also said that Obamacare would cut $716 billion from Medicare over the next decade.

The president said the changes were part of a plan to lengthen the program's life, and he added that AARP, the seniors lobby, supports it.

With a two-minute closing statement, Obama said he had spent his first four years in office fighting for those in the emiddle class and those seeking to make it there. "If you'll vote for me, I'll fight just as hard in my second term," he said.

Romney was as critical of Obama's tenure as he was the moment the two men walked onto the stage.

If the president is re-elected, he predicted continued economic trouble for the middle class, chronic unemployment, higher costs for health insurance and "dramatic cuts to the military."

Obama took office in the shadow of an economic crisis but promised a turnaround that hasn't materialized. Economic growth has been sluggish throughout his term, with unemployment above 8 percent since before he took office.

The customary security blended with a festival-like atmosphere in the surrounding area on a warm and sunny day. The Lumineers performed for free, and Black Eyed Peas frontman delivered a pep talk of sorts to Obama's supporters. School officials arranged to show the debate on monitors outside the hall for those without tickets.

There was local political theater, too, including female Romney supporters wearing short shorts and holding signs that said, "What War On Women?" — a rebuttal to claims by Obama and the Democrats.

The two presidential rivals also are scheduled to debate 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.


Associated Press writer Kristen Wyatt contributed to this story. David Espo reported from Washington.

Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(29) Comments

  1. Jose
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    Jose - October 05, 2012 6:20 am
    It's called a "VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE", but given our system of governance, it's more likely to be a recall election. Thing is, before any kind of electoral reform is accepted, you have to get people to understand that it is NOT free.

    Of course, those you have to convince still imagine that "freedom is free".
  2. Jose
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    Jose - October 05, 2012 6:16 am
    Most of us recognize that these are not "debates", but carefully scripted parallel campaign speeches. Still, why do R-Money & The Regressives think that spewing at least 25 lies in little more than half an hour is a good thing? They can't win by telling the truth, so I guess they think what do they have to lose?

    I saw a different "debate" than the pundits did: I saw a wild-eyed, hysterical R-Money debating a cool, collected, self-controlled Obama. At times, Obama looked really disgusted with R's clear distortions, but said nothing. The people who say that R-Money won are people, I think, who have never had to keep quiet when a phony, loud-mouthed boss told them a lie.

    An aphorism from a more civilized age: "The most successful tempters and thus the most dangerous are the deluded deluders."

    R-Money, his party, his paymasters and puppetmasters are all deluded deluders. It's the bottomless ignorance of so many compatriots that makes these people so dangerous. And the state we're all in at this time multiplies that dangers a billionfold.
  3. yosemite sam
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    yosemite sam - October 04, 2012 9:46 pm
    Tell me again how Romney is going to pay for his massive tax cut for the wealthy AND increase defense spending. Somewhere I missed it.
  4. yosemite sam
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    yosemite sam - October 04, 2012 8:03 pm
    I truely believe there is something else going that Obama is keeping close to the vest. Romney left him so many holes he could have driven a truck through them but he let him off the hook. Was he concerned about coming across as an angry black man?
  5. Chadwick Snow
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    Chadwick Snow - October 04, 2012 7:45 pm
    Either Obama was poorly prepared for the debate or he simply gave it a half-hearted effort. Romney's comparatively stellar performance was more on style than on substance. He failed to provide the details needed to substantiate his economic plan. Cut taxes and increase defense spending and close loopholes. What loopholes? He also offers the ever-present magic bean theory of economics where tax cuts will automatically lead to economic growth. That has not panned out in the past. He also throws in that employment will grow as a result of energy independence. That's a pretty tall order and a hard promise to keep. Obama failed to hold Romney's feet to the fire and performed in a haphazard manner. Gore blamed Obama's poor performance on the mile high altitude in Denver. I think it was lack of discipline and laziness.
  6. yosemite sam
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    yosemite sam - October 04, 2012 4:08 pm
    20% tax cut for the wealthiest with no way to pay for it is a losing argument.
    Turning medicare into a voucher program is a losing argument. What insurance company worth a damn isn't going to cherry pick who they sell healthcare policies to?
  7. yosemite sam
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    yosemite sam - October 04, 2012 3:31 pm
    Then I'm assuming there would have been NO Iraq and afghan wars or 2 Bush tax cuts or any of his stimulus plans.
  8. Wat Tyler
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    Wat Tyler - October 04, 2012 2:52 pm
    I was very encouraged by the debate last night. Mitt Romney came off looking human, compassionate and presidential. He was well prepared, defended well and absolutely skewered Obama. Obama looked, well, like he was coming down from the amphetamines he took while boning up for his final. Romney has the experience and the street cred to back up the outlines of his plans for improving the business environment and protecting the middle class. Obama had to defend a record of high and intransigent unemployment, retreating wages, a manufacturing sector that is spewing jobs and slowing down and a record of incompetence, corruption, inept, arrogant and partisan leadership. He did brag about keeping his marriage intact, I guess he won't appear on Trivia Pursuit as the first President that got divorced in office.

    Our choices are clear, we can vote for Obama, and this time we know what we are getting. It isn't the polished, sophisticated charismatic phenom that he pretended to be in 2008, nope, we got the arrogance, the incompetence, the slothfulness, and the disdainful wife that never was proud of America before her husband got elected president. Or we can vote for a guy that has an outstanding record of success, a businessman that made a living turning sick companies around and revivifying moribund businesses.

    Obama is terrified by the possibility that Romney could get elected, reset the socialist policies, stamp out the cronyism, work with the democrats that will no longer work with him and get the economy back on track, unfortunately, he doesn't have a lot to work with. The fact that his golf handicap has improved 6 strokes while he was in office, that he has managed to spend more money than all the other presidents combined, that his administration is making a record number of food stamp recipients, that 8 million people have been accepted for government financed disability, that prices are getting higher and paychecks are getting thinner are not talking points that improve his chances. He is reduced to manufacturing bogus crises, releasing venomous and factually incorrect attack ads, and using his power and authority to misrepresent his opponent in order to just try to pull even.

    Last night, we saw the unscripted Obama vs. an intelligent, articulate and experienced Romney, and Obama is looking not so good.
  9. The other dave
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    The other dave - October 04, 2012 2:15 pm
    Romney is not killing Big Bird. But Romney will ask Big Bird to get off welfare. This is a huge difference to anyone that understands that people can survive without big momma government.
  10. The other dave
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    The other dave - October 04, 2012 2:13 pm
    Your first sentence was missing three words. It should have been "He's (Obama) running the country into the ground." And Obama's Epic Fail last night proves how incompetent he is.
  11. ChubbyAlaskaGriz
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    ChubbyAlaskaGriz - October 04, 2012 1:26 pm
    RE: "He's running the country. He may not have the time Romney does to do nothing but preparing for a debate for weeks on end."

    This claim of yours might make more sense & hold more water if just 4 short years ago he wasn't the public-speaking dynamo he was- a pretender who recognized the value of promoting a super-rock-star image and using slick sexy swagger to win over adoring crowds- who I remind you were FAINTING in the stands at the mere sound of his voice.

    I think it's being revealed that voters- even supporters- finally had some real expectations of leadership of this man afterall.

    His decline has begun...
  12. ChubbyAlaskaGriz
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    ChubbyAlaskaGriz - October 04, 2012 1:22 pm
    So how do YOU explain his ultra-poor performance then, MRK?
  13. ChubbyAlaskaGriz
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    ChubbyAlaskaGriz - October 04, 2012 1:20 pm
    Obama? I ain't seen a single kool-aid drinkin' adorer of his faint in the audience since '08. Nor a single news-anchor "get a tingle running up their leg" at the mere sound of his voice like they claimed in '08. What's happening? Is his swagger diminishing?

    After the cool hip sexiness of the historic context of this election wore-off, it appears maybe voters in fact did have expectations of leadership of him, afterall.

    He may have won a Nobel Peace Prize for doing absolutely nothing- but it appears voters are gonna actually require a decent record for him to keep the WH and win another term.

    Frankly I'm shocked- for real. Afterall he's still black- and he still looks hot in a suit. I can't explain how he's fallen from grace in the eyes of his adoring public. I didn't see this ever happening.

    But folks of every stripe at every forum I have visited today are speaking of his ultra-poor performance last night- and finally of his absolutely lousy record- with a l'il bit of actual truth and realism.

    Oh don't get me wrong. Just because I'm conservative doesn't mean MR is my man. I may have to hold my nose and vote against a candidate rat her than FOR one. But hell- as a gay conservative I've done that my whole life! Still, it's refreshing to see fellow voters actually look at BO today and see him for the slick, sexy shyster he is.

    Much of the gay community is still giving him a total pass- but that's to be expected to a certain degree- afterall, he's thrown some crumbs of equality our way. But it appears the public at large have wised-up and may have actually had some semi-real expectations of this man afterall- something not actually observed early on. And it's a glorious thing to behold! :-)
  14. MRK
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    MRK - October 04, 2012 1:04 pm
    That's not true at all, but telling you so won't change your mind. You've been told he relies on a teleprompter, so that's just how it is for you.
  15. MRK
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    MRK - October 04, 2012 1:02 pm
    Gov. Romney at times looked great, and overall I will say he came out on top. There were times, however, that he seemed to be sort of flying off the handle - getting snippy and not really following the format of the debate. When debating, you're not supposed to interrupt your opponent. You prepare your rebuttal. That is what President Obama was frequently doing. 2 more debates to go, looking forward to them. I do find it a shame that some here are drawing their own distinctly and blind partisan view of what happened, rather than just watching the debate.
  16. 110100100
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    110100100 - October 04, 2012 12:16 pm
    Gov. Romney won the debate, no question about it. The President looked like he’d just woken up from a 3 day bender, and the moderator got walked all over by both of the debaters.

    The one point I wish the President had pushed harder that there were incentives for companies to move jobs overseas. It was completely disingenuous for Romney to say "Look, I've been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you're talking about. I maybe need to get a new accountant. But the idea that you get a break for shipping jobs overseas is simply not the case." Even Fox News fact-checked him on that one.

    But the real incentives aren’t from tax breaks, it’s the fact that these corporates can hire slaves and pollute other people’s countries.
  17. Pantareader
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    Pantareader - October 04, 2012 12:02 pm
    Wow... after watching the debate from beginning to end, the thought crossed my mind of my impression:

    "You can hope until you're blue in the face, but then it's time to change."
  18. stick
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    stick - October 04, 2012 10:04 am
    What a waste of my time. These are scripted infomercials. And, Jim Lehrer of PBS gave the best reason as to why PBS funding should be eliminated. What an inept fossil. So far, a line on the ballot "None of the Above" has my support, if ever the ballot box was fuctional.
  19. Responsibleone
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    Responsibleone - October 04, 2012 9:34 am
    Yet another person who watched the debate through ruby colored glasses......And, without thinking rationally, I know you will vote for Obama anyway.....Phew!
  20. Randall Flagg
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    Randall Flagg - October 04, 2012 9:27 am
    He's running the country. He may not have the time Romney does to do nothing but preparing for a debate for weeks on end. Romney is still a stiff, robot. Watch him walk out next time. He repeats the same lies he was programmed to say and won't stop even when they are disproven. He's hoping you will eventually believe. I almost hope he wins just to see what programs he cuts. Middle income families will sure enjoy not getting their real estate deduction off their taxes when it finally comes out that it's needed in order to pay for his "tax breaks".
  21. Randall Flagg
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    Randall Flagg - October 04, 2012 9:21 am
    Not a single specific idea was presented by Romney, yet you think he won?? I think Obama is well aware there are 2 more debates and isn't going to come out and waste all his ammo on the first night. There's no reason to do so with a lead. Romney's only specific idea was to kill off PBS and by killing Big Bird (who he loves), he will be able to pay for 7 trillion in revenue cuts. It's such a joke how he says with a straight face that adding 2 trillion (not asked for) to the already bloated military budget and cutting 5 trillion in tax revenue will be revenue neutral. Once again the strategy of repeating a lie until people believe it. I hope the public isn't that dumb, but honey boo boo is a popular show, so i'm having some doubts.
  22. robbin
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    robbin - October 04, 2012 9:06 am
    Obama's expressions made it clear,he new he was taking a beating. Dems wise up to the fact that the romance is over. He does not deserve another term. We have to go in another direction while we still have a chance to revive as a country.
  23. TH Muskie
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    TH Muskie - October 04, 2012 8:51 am

    Wow, I'm not sure who took a bigger beat down this week, the Dallas Cowboys or Obama!

    Last night's debate really should have opened some eyes to how unprepared Obama is and always has been to lead this country.
  24. earlyriser54
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    earlyriser54 - October 04, 2012 8:28 am
    This debate has proven something rationally thinking people have known from the begining. Obama is NOT the great intellectual giant that towers over mere mortals. He is just another poltician that relies more on a teleprompter than any other public speaker in history. When he is forced to speak from the heart, he proves he is an empty suit.
  25. ActTwo
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    ActTwo - October 04, 2012 8:05 am
    Last night i went from being a supporter for the Republican to a supporter for Romney. When he said his litmus test would be whether the program is important enough to borrow money from China for, he convinced me we finally have someone who gets it.
  26. BigBrother
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    BigBrother - October 04, 2012 6:44 am
    Partly because you can't debate from a teleprompter and mostly because Obama has nothing positive to present about his record Romney took the day. In the debates Obama can't rely on canned speeches, biased media reporting and blind eye supporters that still support his facade of "hope and change.Most have realized the only hope is to have some change left from their earnings when Obama is done. Romney pointed out that most middle income families are paying higher taxes due to the cuts from frderal and state programs. Local taxing bodies have gone rampant with tax increases. Obamas policies have failed and Romney pointed it out. Obama had no explanation... why?
  27. MyOhMy
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    MyOhMy - October 04, 2012 6:17 am
    This is what happens when you use John Kerry as a debate coach.
  28. ct
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    ct - October 04, 2012 4:02 am
    Although pretty much all his new party lead ideas stink, you have to hand it to Romney for a stand out performance. I would suggest the months of primary debate experience probably didn't hurt.

    As noted in the past, this type of debate format doesn't fit the president, but that doesn't make the 'loss' any easier to take.
  29. Alabama Yankee
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    Alabama Yankee - October 03, 2012 11:43 pm
    Even Bill Maher, who contributed $1 Million to Obama's campaign, said Obama looked like he needs a teleprompter.
    I wonder if Ol' Billy thinks his money went down the drain?
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