Win for Romney in first debate

NICK O'MALLEY
Last updated 17:48 04/10/2012

US President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney spar over economic issues in debate that could be pivotal in election. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.

Mitt Romney
Reuters
WINNER: Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney received a boost in opinion polls after a strong performance in the first presidential debate.
Barack and Michelle Obama
Reuters
UPSET: President Barack Obama hugs his wife Michelle Obama at the end of the first 2012 US presidential debate.

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Barack Obama, the man considered by many to be the greatest political orator of his generation, was left rambling and flat footed many times during the first presidential debate.

Moments after the debate ended Mitt Romney was declared the winner by TV commentators and millions following it on social media.

As Mr Romney gave polished and often detailed answers, the President looked down to his lectern to take notes, occasionally shaking his head and giving a lop-sided smile.

Mr Romney, resplendent in Grand Old Party-issue blue suit, red tie, US flag pin - a size or so larger than Mr Obama's - mainly looked straight to his opponent during the President's answers.

He looked better and surer for it, in a debate that will be judged by many mainly on the impression the speakers made rather than the content of their answers.

In the debate on domestic policy, those answers were often detailed and heavy on jargon, as the two sparred over debt, deficit, unemployment, regulation, healthcare and the role of government.

Mr Romney made Mr Obama wear his incumbency, constantly harking back to America's high unemployment - he said it was 23 million, which is only half true because that includes underemployment - and the US$16 trillion debt.

Mr Obama did not use many of the attack lines expected of him. He did not mention Mr Romney's notorious "47 per cent" comments, and was long minutes into the discussion over healthcare before he pointed out that "Obamacare" - a term he said he had come to like - was modelled on Mr Romney's policy when governor of Massachusetts.

Nor did Mr Obama raise Mr Romney's background at his company Bain Capital, nor his low tax rate, all areas his campaign has spent millions attacking.

In the discussion of spending cuts, Mr Romney found a clear line to defend a hawkish Republican position, telling the host, Jim Lehrer: "What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test, if they don't pass it: is the program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I'll get rid of it."

He stood by his declaration that he would balance the budget only by cutting spending rather than increasing taxes.

Mr Obama sought to pin him down on his tax policy, claiming his planned 20 per cent across-the-board cut would cost $5 trillion and, as a result, would either blow out the budget or force the tax take from the middle class to go up.

Mr Romney denied the charge, claiming he could find the increased revenue by closing loopholes. He again declined to name the loopholes.

When it came to the role of government, Mr Obama said its first duty was to protect Americans, a clear nod towards his killing of Osama bin Laden, before he quoted Abraham Lincoln saying there were things better done collectively than individually.

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As expected, Mr Romney stood by the primacy of the individual but said those unable to look after themselves should be supported.

He also appeared to coin a new phrase, declaring his opposition to "trickle-down economics".

Before the debate, analysts had said that given Mr Obama's narrow but consistent lead in national and swing-state polls, Mr Romney needed a clear victory in the debate to reinvigorate his campaign.

It seems he has done that.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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