First Romney-Obama Debate
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President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney square off Wednesday at a University of Denver sports arena for the first of three presidential debates that could be crucial to the 2012 election.

Given the central importance of the economy, this debate—focused on economic and domestic issues—may well be the most important. Here’s a guide to the basic details, plus the issues likely to be raised, an assessment of the candidates’ positions and a look at their vulnerabilities:

Major Issues:

Economic growth

OBAMA: Supports targeted tax breaks to encourage companies to expand in the U.S., bring jobs home and increase manufacturing. Promotes education and infrastructure investments to grow “from the middle class out,” not top down.

ROMNEY: Pushes a tax-code overhaul—including 20% rate cuts—plus reduced regulation and government spending, and increased trade. Emphasizes freedom from government interference for small businesses to unleash economic potential.

WATCH FOR: Obama has scored points by depicting Romney’s plan as benefiting the rich at the expense of the middle class. Romney casts Obama as out of his depth and out of ideas, and says his policies depress job creation.

Cutting the deficit

ROMNEY: Terms high deficits immoral. Would reduce federal spending to 20% of GDP from the current 23% and would cut discretionary spending and entitlements, while protecting defense and retirees and near-retirees. Says he would make his tax cut revenue neutral by reducing exemptions.

OBAMA: Favors what he terms a balanced mix of spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy. Proposes about $1 in increased taxes for every $2.50 in budget cuts, while maintaining investments in education and research.

WATCH FOR: Obama says Romney’s budget cuts would hurt the vulnerable while his tax cuts would explode the deficit. Romney disputes that, says his policies foster growth and charges Obama isn’t serious on deficits.

Making Medicare and Social Security sustainable

OBAMA: Says he is open to overhauling Social Security, likely by having the well-to-do pay more while future benefit growth is curbed. Also is willing to consider bigger changes to Medicare as part of broader deficit reduction. But the campaign has avoided specific proposals.

ROMNEY: Wants to preserve current benefits for retirees and near-retirees. Would give future seniors a fixed amount to buy coverage through traditional Medicare or competing plans. Would reduce benefits for the wealthy, maintain them for lower-income people.

WATCH FOR: Obama says Romney would effectively end Medicare’s guarantee of coverage by converting the program into a voucher. Romney says quality of coverage would improve, and Obama is failing to prevent a fiscal train wreck.


ROMNEY: Extends all Bush rates and cuts individual income rates another 20%, and eliminates the alternative minimum tax and estate tax, as well as investment taxes for middle class. Also wants to cut corporate rates to 25%. Hasn’t given details on how he’d offset budget impacts.

OBAMA: Would extend Bush-era tax cuts for couples under $250,000, end them for higher earners, and create a new tax for people making $1 million or more. Has floated a corporate rate cut to 28% from the current 35%.

WATCH FOR: Obama charges that Romney wants to cut taxes for the rich while raising them for the middle class. Romney says his plan would do the opposite, and he warns that Obama will raise taxes on small-business job creators.

Role of the Fed

OBAMA: Supports a “strong and independent” central bank, but hasn’t weighed in on the Fed’s recent bond-buying programs designed to spur economic growth. Praised Chairman Ben Bernanke’s “bold” action in re-nominating him in 2009.

ROMNEY: Has criticized the Fed’s decision to launch a third round of bond-buying and has said he would replace Mr. Bernanke. Supports auditing the Fed, but wouldn’t want the central bank to cede its independence to Congress.

WATCH FOR: A Fed discussion would give Romney an opening to say the Fed is having to act to overcome Obama’s weak economic stewardship. But Bernanke is widely perceived as preventing economic calamity, even drawing praise from one of Romney’s top economic advisers.

Immigration policy

OBAMA: Announced in June that his administration would permit many young illegal immigrants to live and work in the U.S., and supports Dream Act’s path to citizenship. Favors broader reform combining more secure borders with expansion of the legal immigration system, but didn’t make it a priority.

ROMNEY: Favors a long-term immigration overhaul but opposes amnesty. Wants to tighten borders and crack down on undocumented workers. Opposed the Dream Act’s path to citizenship for children of illegal immigrants, but expressed interest in giving them legal status. Would not deport young immigrants who received work permits under Obama’s order. Favors easing rules for job creators and highly skilled immigrants.

WATCH FOR: Romney has labeled Obama’s new immigration stance a politically expedient measure instead of a long-term fix. But its popularity with Latinos helps Obama cast Republicans as obstructionist.

Access to health care

OBAMA: Points to his 2010 Affordable Care Act, or ACA, as a major advance in coverage, particularly for women, young people, seniors and lower-wage workers and small businesses. Says it’s also extending Medicare’s solvency by taking subsidies from insurers.

ROMNEY: Attacks the health reform as a bureaucratic tangle that will cost hundreds of billions of dollars and undermine Medicare by raiding provider funding. Calls for repealing ACA and giving states more power to expand coverage and reduce costs.

WATCH FOR: Romney says heatlh reform is a prime example of Obama’s expansion of government. That attack, though, is diluted by his authorship of a Massachusetts health-care overhaul.

Improving cooperation in Washington

OBAMA: Hopes Republican lawmakers whose professed top priority was to defeat him will find more reason to compromise after the election. Says he envisions in a second term more direct outreach to voters so they will pressure Congress to move past gridlock.

ROMNEY: Points to his bipartisan work as the governor of Massachusetts, when Democrats had overwhelming legislative majorities. One reason he’s been vague on policy details is to leave room for compromise across the aisle, he said in an interview on CBS’ 60 Minutes.

WATCH FOR: Romney says Obama was unable to break Washington’s gridlock as promised, even when he had Democratic majorities in Congress. Obama says Romney’s concept of compromise doesn’t ask Wall Street or the wealthy to sacrifice.

Latest Activity: Oct 02, 2012 at 1:06 PM

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Iknowyou commented on Tuesday, Oct 02, 2012 at 13:18 PM

Here's some news...The Obama administration tries to block sequester layoff notices. The White House will press government contractors to hold off on issuing layoff notices in October in anticipation of the sequestration cuts, afraid of the political backlash that will ensue. Let's just manipulate the jobs before the election then let everything fall apart.

Iknowyou commented on Tuesday, Oct 02, 2012 at 13:21 PM

These are layoffs in a battle state and Lockheed is required by law to send the notices. Now they will be sent after the election. I hope all the Lockheed employees will now see the kind of President we have. He doesn't care that they will lose their jobs . Only that they keep them until after the election!

golfnut31316 commented on Tuesday, Oct 02, 2012 at 13:44 PM

What a lame bunch we have running our country.

sebekm commented on Tuesday, Oct 02, 2012 at 16:31 PM

...and now come the spin-meisters lowering expectations for the debates. I saw a headline this morning that essentially said "all incumbent presidents do poorly in the first debate." That's probably the LOWEST faux expectation set-up I've ever seen.

By all accounts, Romney has significant debate experience. Good for him. Let's see if he's able to slice and dice the statements (and the political record/lack thereof) of his opponent - both prior to and during the debate - and show the country he's ready for prime-time service as President of these United States. IMHO, he must clearly win the debates in order to win on November 6th.

Only 35 days to go.

HMJC commented on Wednesday, Oct 03, 2012 at 12:49 PM

Does anyone know of any statistics regarding the impact of presidential debates? I fear it will be 90 minutes of Obama painting Romney as an "evil" wealthy person that will only look at for that demographic. At the end of the day, if you have money, fine. All I ask is some type of viable plan be presented with quantifiable resources to fund and execute. Obama will respond with more empty promises and the crowd goes wild. There in lies a whole lot of the problem. This cat has nothing of substance to present to the American people as to a list of accomplishments dureing his first term. Oh, thats right, his first four years were "incomplete" I say again, before you depress that switch, think about that, think about how you feel how the last four years have been. There has been plenty of talk, unatainable programs, and has singlehandedly forced a wedge right down the middle of the country. A leader unites all demographics, a leader stands in the door and makes the right decision for all of America. Romney really needs to focus on this tonight. I would ask point blank, what do you consider a triumph form your first four years. It will be interesting to have obama start handing out blame instead of soulutions. This will be the first debate I have actually watched in years. Very interested to see the dialouge tomorrow.

sebekm commented on Wednesday, Oct 03, 2012 at 13:56 PM

I believe that the impact of the debates historically has been minimal, with two notable exceptions:

*1960 - Kennedy vs. Nixon: In the first of four debates, the world was introduced to politics on prime-time television for the very first time. According to our friends at

"...(The 1960 presidential debates) attracted enormous publicity. Nixon insisted on campaigning until just a few hours before the first debate started; he had not completely recovered from (a) hospital stay and thus looked pale, sickly, underweight, and tired. He also refused makeup for the first debate, and as a result his beard stubble showed prominently on the era's black-and-white TV screens. Nixon's poor appearance on television in the first debate is reflected by the fact that his mother called him immediately following the debate to ask if he was sick. Kennedy, by contrast, rested and prepared extensively beforehand, appearing tanned, confident, and relaxed during the debate. An estimated 70 million viewers watched the first debate."

Historians credit the impact of this "first impression" as swaying enough voters to tip what turned out to be the closest Presidential race in history (back then) in favor of Kennedy.

*1980 - Reagan vs. Carter: In the second of three debates, Reagan's novel use of the phrases "Are you better off today than you were four years ago" and "There you go again" supposedly focused the country to his political advantage, and elevated Reagan - who was behind in some polls by nearly 10 points - to an election win. Again, says it best:

"Over the course of two hours, the entire race changed drastically, and what was considered an extremely tight race with the President slightly ahead became a comfortable Republican victory for Reagan. Nothing of that magnitude has happened since in any televised confrontations."

My hunch is that this year's debates COULD make a difference, as they will provide an opportunity for the candidates (especially Romney) to define himself and his plans for the next four years directly to the American people WITHOUT the immediate spin and noise that is typical of the routine news cycle during the campaign. Sure - there will be the "tweets" and other online/social media trash-talking while the show is underway, but voters who are focused on the debates themselves will probably turn off their smart phones and just watch, listen, and try to make up their own minds.

This is Romney's best hope. The President can not run on his record; to do so means defeat and he knows it. He HIMSELF (not his surrogates) has to play the race card; remind us that bin Laden is dead; and paint Romney as the boogie man in order to win the election. Of course, he has to try to disguise these tactics as best he can.

It will be interesting to see how the country responds.

Funkentelecky commented on Wednesday, Oct 03, 2012 at 18:39 PM

Obama vs. Obama, which one will show up tonight?

Obama 1 here:

Or Obama 2 here:

Obama 1 said GWB was irresponsible and unpatriotic on July 3, 2008 for putting us in 4T of debt in 8 years with every man women and child owing $30,000 each.

Obama 2 put us in 5T of debt in less than 4 with every man women and child now owing $50,000 each.

Remember this now and especially on November 6th, America doesn’t reward failure it rewards success!

BHO has got to go!
Romney/Ryan 2012!!!

WhatsHotLips commented on Wednesday, Oct 03, 2012 at 22:59 PM

Mitt, held his own tonight...

Funkentelecky commented on Wednesday, Oct 03, 2012 at 23:06 PM

Governor Romney won the battle tonight, indeed!

HMJC commented on Thursday, Oct 04, 2012 at 08:44 AM

Like it or not, Romney 1, obama 0

lholmes commented on Thursday, Oct 04, 2012 at 09:33 AM

if the election were today, it would be President Romney.

sebekm commented on Thursday, Oct 04, 2012 at 12:12 PM

I thought Romney accomplished all of his objectives in the debate. He made his points; countered Mr. Obama's attacks; and looked like he was having FUN; and did it all with aplomb. To be nitpicky, he does have an odd smile when he's listening to his opponent's attacks, but that didn't get close to the "style points" the President lost on his facial expressions and frequent distraction (downward-looking) when Romney was on the attack.

Mr. Obama's prep team should work on that, but with the next debate being in a "town hall" setting, it may not be an issue. But he'll have to watch it in the last debate, which gets back to last night's format but is hosted by Bob Schieffer from "Face The Nation."

Good stuff.

golfnut31316 commented on Thursday, Oct 04, 2012 at 16:43 PM

Al Gore is blaming NObama's poor performance on the low oxygen levels in Denver.

Here we go playing the blame game.

sebekm commented on Thursday, Oct 04, 2012 at 17:25 PM

I saw that. And some of the Dem surrogates are even BLAMING NPR moderator Jim Lehrer for how badly the President did. The Dems have also actually called for THE MEDIA to "help them out" in dispelling Romney's "lies." HO! HO! It's truly an indication of panic when you see all of this hitting the fan. Just shows you what happens when 67% of the country (by poll) thought Obama LOST.

In Chicago, the headlines in the Tribune call Obama "feisty" and say that today he got "tough with Romney." He shoulda done that last night. Obama today also claimed Romney lied during the debates. WHY DIDN'T HE SAY SO RIGHT THEN? Romney wasn't afraid to confront the President on HIS "lies."

Much is being made about the President not hammering Romney on the "47%" video. I think Obama was wise NOT to do it. I'm sure Romney had a very well-prepared response (considering all of his OTHER well-prepared responses), which might have put the issue to bed for the rest of the campaign. The Dems would prefer to keep beating up Romney in their attack ads and through surrogates, rather than having Romney look directly into the camera and tell the 47% that even though they might not ever vote for him, he STILL CARES ABOUT THEM. Those who are listening to the Dems won't change their minds, but the "undecided" might view that approach as a degree of forthrightness that they don't often see, and give Romney some props for it.

All in all, the Prez has some work to do, and I don't think the "town hall meeting" format gives him his best chance to even the debate score. Candy Crowley of CNN will moderate, and she's one of the more level-headed ones at that network (along with Wolfie). The President's best chance to show up might be at the final debate moderated by Bob Schieffer. It will be the same format as last night (but perhaps without the open-ended follow-ups).

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