But independent analysts say Romney's plan would have to embrace more painful tax hikes or painful spending cuts to make the numbers work. Rather than offer such details, Romney repeatedly asked Americans to trust his skills and intentions.
"As president, I'll get America working again," he said. "I will get us on track to a balanced budget. The president hasn't."
Romney hit the "trust me" theme time and again.
"I was someone who ran businesses for 25 years, and balanced the budget," he said. "I ran the Olympics and balanced the budget."
Don't believe it, Obama kept saying. Look at details of Romney's past, not his vague summaries, he said.
"When he talks about getting tough on China, keep in mind that Governor Romney invested in companies that were pioneers of outsourcing to China," the president said. He was alluding to Romney's time as head of Bain Capital, a private equity firm.
Tuesday's debate brought huge relief to Democrats despondent over Obama's flat performance in the Oct. 3 forum.
"Whatever bounce Romney got from the first debate was stopped in its tracks," said Democratic strategist Doug Hattaway. "President Obama relentlessly drove the narrative that Romney can't be trusted, and put him on the defense much of the time."
Republicans said Romney's performance was far from shabby, but not quite as sharp as the president's.
"Obama was SO much better that he has to get the win," GOP consultant Rich Galen said in an email. "He was well-prepped to have at least one fact about Romney (true or not) that he could use in every question. I thought Romney looked as strong as he did in the first one, but because Obama was so much better, it may not look that way."
The two men have one more debate, on foreign policy, next Monday.
Between now and Nov. 6, the economy is unlikely to make a dramatic move one way or another. Voters have lots of facts, figures, disappointments and hopes lying before them. In the end, they'll have to decide whom they trust.
Charles Babington covers national politics for The Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cbabington
An AP News Analysis
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