U.S. News’s live opinion blog of the first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Contributors from the Thomas Jefferson Street opinion blog will be weighing in throughout the debate giving their insights into the exchange. Enjoy—and give us your thoughts in the comments section at the bottom.
Robert Schlesinger 11:18: Democratic strategist Stan Greenberg did a dial group of independent voters. His take: “Mitt Romney made some gains here though it looks somewhat constrained by the available electorate he was reaching out to. … We’re not looking at dramatic things.” When they asked who won it was 42 percent for Romney, 20 percent for Obama, 38 percent for neither. More problematic for the president: Obama went from 31 to 33 percent share of the vote while Romney went from 27 to 44 percent. With dial groups, Greenberg says, the direction is captured but the scale is always exaggerated. Let’s hope so.
Ron Bonjean 11:02: The Romney comeback rocket has just left the launch pad. Just how far it will go will be up to more great debates and a strong VP match.
Boris Epshteyn 10:50: The Obama team's spin team has nothing they can use—almost going to the argument that Romney had more time to prepare. Also going after the moderator—crying about the referee.
Robert Schlesinger 10:45: Romney had a strong performance tonight—he was polished and smooth, as he often is, but without the robotic, smug veneer that he often has. His preparation showed off, and he even managed to get off one of his much ballyhooed zingers (you get your own plane but not your own facts—yawn).
I don't think Obama was as bad as many of the Twitterati (and not just his critics) believe, but he definitely didn't bring his A-game tonight. (One of the members of my personal focus group—the couple I'm watching with—just quipped, "It looked like he needed a cup of coffee.") Obama has an unfortunate habit of giving the idea that he is thinking of what he wants to say as he speaks, which lends itself to a hesitant delivery that doesn't work. And where were Bain Capital or Romney's "47 percent" comments? (Conversely, Romney never brought up the welfare lie.)
Suffice it to say that it's a good thing for the Obama team that Romney was much better than his campaign tonight while the president was not nearly as good as his.
Peter Roff 10:41: Now that the debate is over, the real work starts. As Robert and Mary Kate can also probably attest, both campaigns now have their best communications people and surrogates, including elected officials, in a small room off the stage arguing why their guy one. They are emphatically repeating what they thought were their candidates best lines and reminding the reporters who are covering this for television and writing for newspapers, magazines, blogs, and wire services where the opposition got its facts wrong.
The "spin room" is where the debate coverage is really shaped, which is why tomorrow morning's reports may not look like the debate you thought you saw tonight.
Clark Judge 10:40: Assessment of debate: Both were smooth, well briefed. Most fluid presentations in debates (on both sides) in years. Who won? If there is a group sitting on the sidelines, unhappy with the president but wanting reassurance about Romney, they got it tonight. Romney laid out his thinking on the economy better than anytime to date. His campaign needed that.
Mary Kate Cary 10:39: Debate wrap-up. Romney: reliable, smart, safe alternative. Obama: no charm, rusty, annoyed. Chris Christie was right: Tonight's debate changed the entire race.
Peter Roff 10:39: As the post-debate spin starts, the Romney campaign leads off with a statement from GOP Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan:
Americans deserve a clear choice about what kind of future we're going to have, and Governor Romney provided that contrast tonight. Mitt won this debate by effectively articulating his positive vision for a better America and the specific solutions needed to achieve it. The President, meanwhile, offered only more of the same failed ideas that have left those in the middle class—as Joe Biden put it—'buried.' As we continue to sharpen the focus on the big choice in this election, Americans will see that we cannot afford four more years like the last. We need a real recovery, and Mitt Romney can get the job done.
Peter Roff 10:38: As to President Clinton's math class, when he was president he called the same kinds of reductions in the rate of growth in discretionary spending the Gingrich Congress proposed that Obama has done to Medicare as part of Obamacare "cuts." So if they were cuts then aren't they still cuts now?
Boris Epshteyn 10:38: President Obama looks surprised at how strong Governor Romney was.
Peter Roff 10:32: I get the sense that the president's line in his closing remarks about not being a perfect and not being a perfect president—"something Governor Romney would probably agree with"—was supposed to be a laugh line. It wasn't.
Boris Epshteyn 10:31: President Obama's message: "If you vote for me, I will keep doing what I have been for the last four years." That is not a strong pitch.
Boris Epshteyn 10:30: President Obama looking every way but at Governor Romney. This debate is the best thing to happen to Governor Romney's quest for the presidency since he declared his candidacy.
Ron Bonjean 10:29: Business Executive vs. Professor—Romney has the eye of the tiger. He always provides or responds with several ideas—No. 1, No. 2, No. 3—while Obama keeps spending time defending or attacking one thing.
Peter Roff 10:28: The president, in talking about Governor Romney having a busy first day, is starting to whine just a little. He seems to be getting a little defensive. And manages to work killing Osama bin Laden into a debate on the economy and domestic policy. Is it really coming down to "Obama got Osama?"
Robert Schlesinger 10:28: And a good point from Roger Simon (@politicoroger) on Twitter: "Romney: 'Mr. President, you're entitled to your own airplane and your own house, but not to your own facts.' Romney doesn't own house/plane?"
Robert Schlesinger 10:25: So … Romney doesn't want to cut education; he doesn't want to raise taxes; he can't say what loopholes he'd close; he does want to dramatically increase military spending; and whilst doing all of this he claims he'll balance the budget? How does that work? Time to get back into Professor Clinton's math class?
Peter Roff 10:24: On education and student loans, if you can't deliver a zinger, Mr. President, without stumbling over it, you probably shouldn't try to stick your opponent with it. Meanwhile Romney comes back with the solid argument that all the money that went to green energy businesses run by Obama's political supporters could have be used to hire 2 million new teachers.
Mary Kate Cary 10:23: I think part of President Obama's bad performance tonight has to do with the lack of a teleprompter. Seems lost.
Robert Schlesinger 10:22: On Twitter, National Review's Jim Geraghty makes a great point: "Seventy-seven minutes in. What words have we not heard so far? '47 Percent.'"
Peter Roff 10:19: Governor Romney delivering a far superior answer to the question about the role of government. Starting with the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution and drawing it down to to basic programs like food stamps and long-term unemployment.
Robert Schlesinger 10:17: Here's another answer to the question about the role of the federal government: The government fills in where the free market fails. Social Security and Medicare weren't created because of creeping socialism or a desire to snatch away individual liberty; they were created because the free market was leaving seniors in poverty as they hadn't been able to save enough for their retirement or pay for their medical bills. Ditto clean air and water laws. Ditto regulations of Wall Street and so forth.
Peter Roff 10:12: Excuse me but did President Obama just admit he has been less-than-truthful about the pre-existing condition issue? That his much vaunted reform of the law was actually already law to begin with? That the pre-existing condition was already dealt with before Obamacare became law? I could be wrong but it certainly sounded like that to me.
Robert Schlesinger 10:09: Sports break: With Tampa taking down the Baltimore Orioles 4-1, your American League Eastern Division champions are the New York Yankees. The fact that the Bronx Bombers are pounding the Red Sox (13-2 in the seventh inning) is just gravy. Anyway, back to the evening's political sporting event…
Peter Roff 10:07: Romney campaign circulating this as part of its "rapid response" effort:
Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA): The Way The White House Handled Obamacare "Cost Obama A Lot Of Credibility As A Leader.": "The healthcare reform law will be President Obama's 'biggest downside' politically heading into the November elections, retiring Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said … 'I think that the manner in which the health-care reform issue was put in front of the Congress, the way that the issue was dealt with by the White House, cost Obama a lot of credibility as a leader,' Webb said, according to the Washington Post. … 'If you were going to do something of this magnitude, you have to do it with some clarity, with a clear set of objectives from the White House,' said Webb." (The Hill, 4/18/12)
Not helpful to the president, especially coming from a Democrat who voted for his plan.
Peter Roff 10:04: Apparently it was a mistake for President Obama to compare what he did on healthcare favorably to what Romney did in Massachusetts. Governor Romney's explanation of how the two plans are different is devastating to the president's position. Especially his attack on the president for his lack of bipartisanship—and Obama's wrapping his arms around Romney is not going to help. "We used the same advisers and they say it's the same plan," is not going to cut it. Romney has the facts on his side.
Robert Schlesinger 10:04: I must confess my memory of Peter's welfare piece has been eclipsed by the judgment of every independent fact checker that the welfare attack was a whole cloth fabrication.
Robert Schlesinger 10:06: Mary Kate is glad that this is Jim Lehrer's last debate. Lehrer is to presidential debates what Dick Clark is to New Years.
Peter Roff 10:00: Robert Schlesinger recalls the so-called Romney lie on welfare reform. Surely he cannot have forgotten my piece for Thomas Jefferson Street, The Truth About Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, and Welfare Reform, that explains just how right Romney and the Republicans are about the Obama administration's move to illegally—because they have not sought congressional approval for the move—gut the work requirement that is the cornerstone of welfare reform.
Boris Epshteyn 10:00: Halfway Point: Governor Romney has come prepared for big time, no question about it. Specifics on energy policy, healthcare, oversight. Also, Governor Romney just used his experience on healthcare in Massachusetts as a positive. Best point on Romneycare he has made.
Mary Kate Cary 10:00: Jim Lehrer already said this will be his last debate. Probably a good idea.
Robert Schlesinger 9:59: So to sum up, Romney favors regulation of Wall Street and doesn't want to cut taxes on the rich, and Obama and Romney largely agree on Social Security. Holy Etch A Sketch, Batman!
Peter Roff 9:55: In the larger political context, it is probably to Governor Romney's benefit that he is not letting Jim Lehrer control the discussion and is insisting on getting his point across. Too often in these debates the moderators try to take center stage and play traffic cop in a way that reveals their hidden biases. Romney is having none of that.
Robert Schlesinger 9:52: Halfway through the debate Romney is holding his own—no surprise, challengers often look good in first debates. Neither one has landed a strong blow or had a major gaffe. The little CNN dial-meter of undecided voters holds few surprises thus far: Women tend to approve of the president more while men are more favorable toward Romney.
Mary Kate Cary 9:49: First hour: This is the side of Mitt Romney everybody's been waiting to see. Seems a lot more passionate than I expected, he's really enjoying this. Obama's not doing himself any favors.
Robert Schlesinger 9:47: Obama is the first to mention the $716 saved in the Medicare program through Obamacare—smart move because it allows him to define that figure before Romney can.
Robert Schlesinger 9:45: Romney describes states as the laboratory of democracy. I wonder if this will come back on him if he tries to raise the welfare lie his campaign has spread for the last few months.
Peter Roff 9:40: Governor Romney scores a direct hit on President Obama on energy, directly refuting the charge about tax breaks for the oil companies by explaining they go to small companies while the president has sent almost half a century's worth of the same amount of money in credits and tax breaks to green energy over the course of his administration.
Robert Schlesinger 9:40: Interesting—nearly 40 minutes in and no mention of "Ryan budget" yet.
Robert Schlesinger 9:35: Question for Governor Romney: Which tax increases did more damage to the economy, Reagan's in 1982 or Clinton's in 1993?
Peter Roff 9:33: Earlier, President Obama urged us to look at history. As far as the whole business of addressing deficit spending is concerned, the history of these grand deals to increase some taxes by a little bit in exchange for larger spending cuts always ends up the same way: the taxes go up, revenue declines because the higher rates have an adverse effect on economic growth, and the spending cuts never materialize.
Peter Roff 9:31: What neither candidate seems to be willing to say about the deficit is that it, in and of itself, is not the issue. The problem is that spending has exploded when compared to revenues. Mild spending restraint, cuts in the rate of growth of spending, can get the budget back near balance very quickly as long as we are still able to borrow from the Social Security Trust Fund. What President Obama seems to forget is that the economy was doing rather well until the crash—which was caused by the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage program backed by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and it's impact on the big investment firms on Wall Street. It was not caused by the Bush/Obama tax cuts or by the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Robert Schlesinger 9:32: Umm, Governor Romney, repealing Obamacare adds to the deficit and shortens the life of Medicare. Just sayin’.
Peter Roff 9:28: Actually, the Romney plan to reduce rates while reducing the value of deductions and tax credits is the same successful strategy pursued by Ronald Reagan in the 1986 Tax Reform Act that helped create 20 million new jobs by the end of the decade.
Peter Roff 9:29: Romney is delivering a strong defense of his tax plan and has called the president on several obvious errors in his analysis. President Obama has misstated the effect of his policies and his explanation of what is going on in the economy comes straight out of "Fantasyland."
Mary Kate Cary 9:24: Romney is coming across as specific and credible. I'm watching CNN's response meters with undecided voters. Mitt's killing Obama among undecideds. Obama is coming across as a little annoyed, can tell he really doesn't want to be there.
Robert Schlesinger 9:24: First "zinger" of the night from Obama, about Donald Trump being a small business. The problem with the rule of absolute silence in the auditorium is that it’s going to be hard for even funny comments to not sound flat.
[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]
Boris Epshteyn 9:23: President Obama continuously is attacking Romney, not talking about his own achievements. Good point by Romney on energy production on private land. Great zinger by Governor Romney about his sons and continuing to say an untruth.
Robert Schlesinger 9:22: Romney abandons the GOP position on taxes—rhetorically anyway. He says he doesn’t want to cut taxes for the wealthy, which drops 30 years of GOP dogma. It’s also not what’s in his plan.
Robert Schlesinger 9:17: Romney says he doesn’t have a tax cut. He means net—he is advocating a cut in the tax rate. But even so, this flies in the face of all independent studies which say that his 20 percent tax cut adds up $5 trillion (in addition to extending the Bush tax cuts) and that there are not enough tax breaks available to offset the cost of the his tax cuts.
Boris Epshteyn 9:12: Former Gov. Mitt Romney looks more presidential, President Barack Obama comes out with the soft moment, but Romney gets the bigger laugh. Most importantly Romney cites specific points and actually answers the question of how he will create jobs.
Robert Schlesinger 9:10: Mitt Romney starts with a human touch, talking about voters he’s met over the last few years who have had economic difficulties.
Robert Schlesinger 9:08: President Obama opens smartly—with a "happy anniversary" to his wife of 20 years.