DENVER — In a showdown at close quarters, an aggressive Mitt Romney sparred with President Barack Obama 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 Republican challenger.
Democrat 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.
With early voting already under way in dozens of states, Romney was particularly assertive in the 90-minute event that drew a television audience likely to be counted in the tens of millions — like a man intent on shaking up the campaign with a little less than five weeks to run.
He seemed at ease in debate with the man who has been in the White House for four years. “It’s fun, isn’t it?” Romney said. In a rare post-debate concession, some Democratic strategists not involved in the campaign conceded the president was not at his best and missed opportunities to challenge his rival.
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.
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.
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.