Undecided Voters: Romney Out of the Gate Strong

DENVER -- Little more than a month from Election Day, Republican Mitt Romney is barreling out of the first presidential debate energized by a solid performance that telegraphed his determination to take it to President Barack Obama with gusto. The president, intent on keeping his momentum from stalling, is warning Americans that his GOP rival's policy prescriptions for a fragile economy are more fantasy than reality.

Standing toe-to-toe with the president for the first time in the campaign, Romney held his own and more at a time when there already were signs that the race is tightening in some of the battleground states where Obama has enjoyed an advantage. Obama kept his cool and signaled that he won't let up on his message that Romney's plans on taxes, health care, the deficit and more just don't add up.

"It's fun," Romney declared well into Wednesday night's 90-minute faceoff, clearly relishing the back-and-forth.

"It's arithmetic," said Obama, hammering at Romney's conspicuous lack of details with far less enthusiasm.

After a few days of relative calm as the candidates prepared for the first of their three debates, the campaign now bursts out of Colorado in all directions, with an itinerary that touches down in some of the most hotly contested battleground states over the next few days: Obama campaigns in Colorado and Wisconsin, then on to Virginia and Ohio. Romney and running mate Paul Ryan are off to Virginia on Thursday, then Romney spends more time in Virginia before moving on to Florida. Vice President Joe Biden is bound for Iowa.

With a 13-day break before their next debate, Obama and Romney have time to hone their arguments while their campaigns continuing to bombard the most hotly contested states with negative ads that go far beyond the more restrained jibes the candidates leveled from their respective podiums. Obama made no mention, for example, of Romney's caught-on-tape remark that he's not worried about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay taxes. Democratic ads, though, have been making hay with the comment.

In next few weeks, Romney is expected to give a number of policy speeches filling in details as he tries to sharpen the contrast with Obama while answering criticism that he hasn't clearly outlined his plans. The Republican challenger begins with a foreign policy speech in Virginia on Monday. Subsequent speeches are expected to focus on his plans for job creation, debt and spending.

Romney has promised to balance the budget in eight years to 10 years, but hasn't explained just how he'll do it. Instead, he's promised a set of principles, some of which - like increasing Pentagon spending and restoring more than $700 billion in cuts to Medicare over the coming decade - work against that goal. He also has said he will not consider tax increases.

Obama argued that it's all too much.

"At some point, I think the American people have to ask themselves, is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans to replace secret because they're too good?" he said. "Is it because that somehow middle-class families are going to benefit too much from them? No."

The president went on to say the nation faces tough problems that defy simple solutions and said his own choices were "benefiting middle-class families all across the country."

Romney maintained it was Obama who was crushing the middle class and getting the numbers wrong, telling him, "Mr. President, you're entitled to your own airplane and your own house, but not your own facts."

The two candidates planted themselves behind wooden lecterns and faced off before about a crowd of fewer than 1,000 people at the University of Denver. But their policy-heavy debate really was aimed at the tens of millions of television viewers who tuned in, particularly those who are undecided or soft in their support for a candidate. Just the sort of voters who may be less partisan and more interested in hearing specifics.

Karl Amelchenko, an Obama supporter who watched the debate at a storefront art gallery in Raleigh, N.C., thought Romney did himself some good.

"I think he won, unfortunately," Amelchenko said. "I think he might change some minds."

But some voters still aren't ready to commit one way or the other.

Cynthia Gerst, a state worker in Ohio who attended a nonpartisan debate watch party in downtown Columbus, confessed she's "been under a rock, but now I'm ready" to pay attention. She leans Democratic, but hasn't made up her mind.

"I couldn't distinguish who was in the right," she said after the debate.

Senior Obama political adviser David Axelrod acknowledged that Romney "did give a strong performance. But that's what it was, a performance."

Axelrod said on NBC's "Today" show Thursday that the former Massachusetts governor had "big gaps in truth that we saw" and said that Obama will set the record straight. He charged that Romney "refused to offer any way to pay" for the broad-ranging tax cut he advocated.

Ed Gillespie, a top aide to Romney, said that what people saw in the debate was a presidential challenger "who had a command of the facts."

"He had a very fact-based critique of Obama's policies," Gillespie said on NBC, adding that "we didn't hear very much, frankly, from President Obama about a second-term agenda."

Both candidates came into the debate with distinct missions, and largely achieved them: Romney needed to project leadership and dispel the image of an out-of-touch elitist. Obama needed to avoid making any major mistakes and press the case that he still has more to offer.

The GOP nominee began his charm offensive from the outset, offering 20th wedding anniversary wishes to the Obamas and joking that the debate hall was quite the romantic setting. And then he quickly segued to the campaign's central issue - jobs - and called it "a very tender topic." Obama sketched out his familiar agenda of improving schools, expanding energy sources, increasing tax fairness and paying down the debt, then made a simple but all-encompassing promise: "All of this is possible."

Each candidate wielded studies and experts to buttress his arguments, and each hauled out anecdotes about ordinary Americans to connect with voters. Romney spoke of the woman in Ohio who grabbed his arm and told him she's been out of work since May. Obama recalled the teacher he met in Las Vegas who had students sitting on the floor and using 10-year-old textbooks.

Biden and Ryan were probably two of the most attentive viewers: Their own debate is up next, on Oct. 11 at Centre College in Danville, Ky. Their rival rehearsals, with stand-ins for their opponents, already are well under way.

Obama and Romney go back at it on Oct. 16, in a town hall-style format at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. Their final faceoff, on foreign affairs, is Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

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Benac reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Allen Breed in Raleigh, N.C., Julie Pace in Denver, Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio, and Steve Peoples in Washington contributed to this report.

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ateht3

I wish we could just register enough people of the parties to not have to worry about undecided people. In what area of your life would you be content with someone undecided determining what happens to you? No where! The only way I could see someone thinking Romney was the better person in that debate, is if that person honestly admitted never having heard anything Romney said before the night of the debate. Otherwise, you should still be picking your jaw up off the floor trying to figure out who that person was that showed up and who was speaking, because it certainly wasn't the Romney the rest of us have been seeing on tv and hearing on private recorded fundraising events.

October 08 2012 at 1:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
kz1952

Whats he gone do when he doesn't creat the 12 mill new jobs, you gotta get the money from somewhere? Hello out there, is anybody listening? Its great to say your gonna creat 12 mill job, but it ain't gonna happen overnight and he still has not shown exactly how it will be done. So were do you get the money beside taking credit for moneys Obama created. ALL SMOKE AND MIRRORS, ITS LIKE BEING AT A CIRCUS! Next debate I hope he brings out the bearded lady then form the sale of tickets atleast the gov will have some additional income. CUT INCOME TAXES BY 20%????? What world does he come from. KEEP BELIEVING IN THIS DREAM WEAVER what does he care? If hes wrong he will still have all his money and the 20% he cuts hes taxes.

October 04 2012 at 10:58 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to kz1952's comment
Swordfish

Wow! Is ignorance really bliss? Must be for you.

October 04 2012 at 12:41 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Bud

I thank that b.o. looked like an ass just as he allways does

October 04 2012 at 10:47 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Chuck

ccm989, are you so dense you can't understand simple arithmetic. If your not sending taxes to Washington then you have more money to hire people, expand services, buy new equipment, or put in place a better healthcare plan. Most small businesses react to demand with existing products, new products are another situation which require capital, you can't have demand for a new product which no one knows about. By the way Genius what Business school did you attend.

October 04 2012 at 10:06 AM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
Hi Debbie

I think we have 2 men with the most difficult tasks a person can have. They both actually care about this country and its people. They do however, have oppositte methods of solving these problems. Obama believes in more government control and regulations, where Romney wants more privitization and state control of these programs. What has worked on a smaller level may not work on a national level and that worries me I am leaning toward Romney being a former business owner myself I know that part of the problems that occured with companies moving off shore were hugely mounting government taxes and control, but Romney also wants companies to move back here and wants to provide incentives so that could be a win win for us .....may the best man win!

October 04 2012 at 10:01 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
mahrmach

Romney was clearly in command. He was informed and confident in his answers.
Obama was spitting out talking points and catch phrases. No substance at all.
Obama was without a teleprompter and it showed.
He was an empty suit pitted against an executive in command of the facts

October 04 2012 at 9:55 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
lilly295

Romney kicked Obamas ass

October 04 2012 at 9:33 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Mark and Teri

In case you're all wondering....Obama had time to appear on the View talk show because he figured everyone would be home at that time, sitting on the couch because we're all out of work anyway...what a joke!! We pay for our President to "work" the talk show circut??? How low class & tacky for the President of our country!! He should have prepared himself better to face the debate last night instead.

October 04 2012 at 9:30 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
wsuebill

Romney KICKED ASS !!! Obama's lack of experience, lack of knowlege and many his presidential screw ups were totally exposed as he bumbled last night.

October 04 2012 at 9:29 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Mark and Teri

In case you're all wondering....Obama had time to appear on the View talk show because he figured everyone would be home at that time, sitting on the couch because we're all out of work anyway...what a joke!! We pay for our President to "work" the talk show circut??? How low class & tacky for the President of our country!! He should have prepared himself better to face the debate last night instead.

October 04 2012 at 9:29 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply