The first presidential debate of the 2012 presidential election featured a generous amount of back and forth between the two candidates.
While the 90-minute debate moderated by veteran PBS anchor Jim Lehrer held at the University of Denver may not have provided any revelations regarding the two candidate's political stances, it did offer them a chance to try to define the campaign in their own terms.
For President Barack Obama, that meant challenging Romney for specifics about his tax and health care plans, while defending his own health care legislation and the progress made on recovering from the financial crisis of 2007-08.
“Because of the resilience and the determination of the American people, we've begun to fight our way back. Over the last 30 months, we've seen 5 million jobs in the private sector created. The auto industry has come roaring back, and housing has begun to rise,” Obama said.
As the Republican candidate, Romney continued to hammer the president on the economy and present himself as an alternative to the president's plan of “spending more, taxing more and regulating more.”
Obama began the evening on a light note, joking about spending his 20th wedding anniversary at the debate, and not spending his 21st with his wife “in front of 40 million people.”
Romney also joked about the situation, telling Obama, “I'm sure this is the most romantic place you could imagine — here with me."
In speaking about “two very different paths,” Romney repeatedly brought up current economic figures, including 8.1 percent unemployment.
“Under the president's policies, the middle-income Americans have been buried,” Romney said.
The Republican candidate advocated for his economic plan, to lower and simplify the national tax rate, and use closed tax deductions and economic growth to avoid adding to the deficit.
Obama said Romney had yet to specify which tax deductions he would close, and said it was “just arithmetic,” and that to avoid adding to the national debt, the Romney plan would either raise middle-class taxes, or cut deeply into federal government programs.
“The average middle-class family would pay $2,000 more with that plan,” Obama said.
Romney fired back that one study showed Obama's proposed tax increase on those earning $250,000 or more annually, would actually cost 700,000 jobs.
Romney denied his tax plan would increase the debt, or result in tax savings for top earners — two allegations by Obama — but did not provide any further details either.
On the topic of Obamacare, a term the president said he has become fond of, Romney argued that the federal health care reform bill went too far and that he would repeal it if elected.
“The irony is that we've seen this model work very well, in Massachusetts,” Obama said, pointing out that his signature piece of health care reform legislation was largely modeled on what Romney championed while he was governor.
“Craft a plan at the state level that meets the needs of the state,” Romney said. He said his state plan did not involve raising taxes or a $716 billion “cut” to Medicare.
In his rebuttal, Obama said the $716 billion his administration has cut from the Medicare program was better described as program savings designed to strengthen Medicare, and that the senior advocacy group AARP supported that view.
In his closing statement, Obama said he would continue to fight for the middle class in a country where “everybody's getting a fair share, everybody's doing a fair share and everybody's playing by the same rules.”
Romney used his closing remarks to chart the “two paths” the country could take, saying that if he were elected — he would raise incomes, help create 12 million new jobs, set up state-specific health care reform and maintain current military funding.
The next official debate will be Thursday, Oct. 11, and feature the vice presidential candidates. Obama and Romney will meet for two more debates, on Tuesday, Oct. 16, and Monday, Oct. 22.