First debate sets up moment of high-risk theater

President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney come face to face for the first time in this presidential campaign Wednesday night for a nationally televised debate that will give millions of Americans a chance to size up two fierce competitors in a moment of high-risk theater.
Associated Press
Oct 3, 2012

Romney, trailing in polls in a number of key states and running short on time to reverse his fortunes, is angling for a breakout performance in the three 90-minute presidential debates scheduled over the next three weeks.

Obama, well aware that the remaining five weeks of the race still offer enough time for tectonic shifts in his prospects, is determined to avoid any campaign-altering mistakes as he presses his case for a second term.

A pre-debate skirmish Tuesday over Vice President Joe Biden's passing reference to "a middle class that has been buried the last four years" demonstrated how just a few words can mushroom into something larger during a heated contest for the White House.

Wednesday's 9 p.m. EDT faceoff between Obama and Romney on domestic policy at the University of Denver is sure to offer a blend of choreography and spontaneity: Both men have spent hours rehearsing smart lines and pithy comebacks with proxy opponents — yet know to expect the unexpected.

"That's what so tricky about this," says Alan Schroeder, author of a book on presidential debates. "There's never a template for preparing because each one takes its own direction."

The central role of the economy in this election is evident in the topics selected for the first three of the night's six debate segments: The Economy I, The Economy II and The Economy III. The last three segments will focus on health care, the role of government and governing.

Romney has pinned his campaign on the argument that Obama has failed to adequately juice up the U.S. economy, but his challenge is reflected in recent polls showing growing public optimism about the economy and the president's leadership. His case got tougher after a secret video revealed Romney telling donors that it's not his job to care about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes and believe they are victims.

Romney tried to address accusations that he doesn't care about those voters with a new ad Wednesday in which the casually dressed candidate looks at the camera and acknowledges the struggles of Americans living paycheck to paycheck. "We should measure our compassion by how many of our fellow Americans are able to get good-paying jobs, not how many are on welfare. My economic plan will get America back to work and strengthen the middle class," he says.

Republicans tried to frame the economic debate in their terms Tuesday by pointing to the vice president's comments in North Carolina about the beleaguered middle class as an unwitting acknowledgment that Obama's economic policies have devastated average Americans.

"We agree," GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan declared in Iowa. "That means we need to stop digging by electing Mitt Romney the next president of the United States."

Obama's camp countered that it was the policies of the president's Republican predecessors that had caused the damage.

Biden, at a later campaign event, was careful to say that "the middle class was buried by the policies that Romney and Ryan supported," calling their economic plans an amped-up rework of those from the George W. Bush years.

Romney calls Wednesday's debate the beginning of a monthlong "conversation with the American people," and the debates do tend to consume much of the political oxygen for several crucial weeks.

The candidates will be speaking to a TV audience of tens of millions in one of those rare moments when a critical mass of Americans collectively fix their attention on one event. Fifty-two million people tuned in to the first debate four years ago, and 80 percent of the nation's adults reported watching at least a bit of the debates between Obama and Republican John McCain in 2008.

The two campaigns on Wednesday announced new websites — and — to respond to their opponent in real time.

In a quadrennial pre-debate ritual, each campaign has worked overtime to raise expectations for the opponent while lowering the bar for its own candidate. The thinking is that it's better to exceed lukewarm expectations than to fail to perform at an anticipated level of great skill.

But both men are seasoned debaters: Obama has been here before, facing off with McCain in 2008. Romney hasn't gone one on one in a presidential debate, but he got plenty of practice thinking on his feet during 19 multicandidate debates held during the Republican primaries.

On a long day of debate prep — Romney in Denver and Obama in Henderson, Nev., near Las Vegas — both candidates tried to blow off some steam Tuesday. The president made a tourist's visit to nearby Hoover Dam, and Romney fit in a lunchtime outing to a Mexican grill for a burrito bowl.

The two candidates' biggest fans talked up their debating abilities in pre-debate interviews.

Michelle Obama told CNN she's like a nervous parent watching a child performing on the balance beam when her husband debates.

"I do tell him to have fun and relax and just be himself, because the truth is, if he's the Barack Obama the country has come to know and trust, he is going to do a great job," she said.

Ann Romney said her husband always looks around to find her in the debate audience and keeps a paper in front of him that says "Dad" — to remind him to make his father proud.

As for her advice, Mrs. Romney told KMGH-TV in Denver that she tells her husband: "Sweetie, you had five boys. You learned to argue really well and make your points years ago. Just go do that."

Wednesday's format: The moderator, PBS newsman Jim Lehrer, will open each 15-minute segment with a question, and Obama and Romney each will have two minutes to answer. After that, it's up to Lehrer to keep the conversation going and to intervene if one candidate goes on too long.

Obama and Romney have a two-track mission with debate viewers: Motivate core supporters to turn out and vote — at a time when early voting already is under way in many states — and try to lock in some new supporters from among the small subset of viewers who haven't settled on a candidate or whose support for one man or the other is squishy.

The viewers who matter most live in the contested battleground states that will determine which candidate gets to 270 electoral votes on Nov. 6: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and, to a lesser extent, Wisconsin.

Recent national polls show the two candidates in a tight race among likely voters. But Obama has the advantage in many of the battlegrounds, including Colorado.

Romney and Obama debate again Oct. 16 in Hempstead, N.Y., and Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla. Biden and Ryan have their lone debate on Oct. 11 in Danville, Ky.

Obama plans to use the first presidential debate as the hook for fundraisers and recruiting volunteers. Former President Bill Clinton will be in Boston on Wednesday night for Obama, with donors paying $20,000 a person. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is headlining a New York fundraiser.

The Obama campaign plans more than 4,000 debate-watching events around the country. And Biden is scheduled to hold a live discussion with supporters that will be streamed online after the debate.

The Romney camp planned 336 debate parties at restaurants, bars, grills, VFW halls and other sites concentrated in battleground states.




i will not pass taxes on to the middle and low class. sound familiar demmies? read on:

1. The ObamaCare Medical Device Manufacturing Tax

This 2.3 percent tax on medical device makers will raise the price of (for example) every pacemaker, prosthetic limb, stent, and operating table. Can you remind us, Mr. President, how taxing medical devices will reduce the cost of health care? The tax is particularly destructive because it is levied on gross sales and even targets companies who haven’t turned a profit yet.

These are often small, scrappy companies with less than 20 employees who pioneer the next generation of life-prolonging devices. In addition to raising the cost of health care, this $20 billion tax over the next ten years will not help the country’s jobs outlook, as the industry employs nearly 400,000 Americans. Several companies have already responded to the looming tax by cutting research and development budgets and laying off workers.

2. The ObamaCare High Medical Bills Tax

This onerous tax provision will hit Americans facing the highest out-of-pocket medical bills. Currently, Americans are allowed to deduct medical expenses on their 1040 form to the extent the costs exceed 7.5 percent of one’s adjusted gross income.

The new ObamaCare provision will raise that threshold to 10 percent, subjecting patients to a higher tax bill. This tax will hit pre-retirement seniors the hardest. Over the next ten years, affected Americans will pony up a minimum total of $15 billion in taxes thanks to this provision.

3. The ObamaCare Flexible Spending Account Cap

The 24 million Americans who have Flexible Spending Accounts will face a new federally imposed $2,500 annual cap. These pre-tax accounts, which currently have no federal limit, are used to purchase everything from contact lenses to children’s braces. With the cost of braces being as high as $7,200, this tax provision will play an unwelcome role in everyday kitchen-table health care decisions.

The cap will also affect families with special-needs children, whose tuition can be covered using FSA funds. Special-needs tuition can cost up to $14,000 per child per year. This cruel tax provision will limit the options available to such families, all so that the federal government can squeeze an additional $13 billion out of taxpayer pockets over the next ten years.

The targeting of FSAs by President Obama and congressional Democrats is no accident. The progressive left has never been fond of the consumer-driven accounts, which serve as a small roadblock in their long-term drive for a one-size-fits-all government health care bureaucracy.

For further proof, note the ObamaCare “medicine cabinet tax” which since 2011 has barred the 13.5 million Americans with Health Savings Accounts from purchasing over-the-counter medicines with pre-tax funds.

4. The ObamaCare Surtax on Investment Income

Under current law, the capital gains tax rate for all Americans rises from 15 to 20 percent in 2013, while the top dividend rate rises from 15 to 39.6 percent. The new ObamaCare surtax takes the top capital gains rate to 23.8 percent and top dividend rate to 43.4 percent. The tax will take a minimum of $123 billion out of taxpayer pockets over the next ten years.

And, last but not least...

5. The ObamaCare Medicare Payroll Tax increase

This tax soaks employers to the tune of $86 billion over the next ten years.

As you can understand, there is a reason why the authors of ObamaCare wrote the law in such a way that the most brutal tax increases take effect conveniently after the 2012 election. It’s the same reason President Obama, congressional Democrats, and the mainstream media conveniently neglect to mention these taxes and prefer that you simply “move on” after the Supreme Court ruling.

hmmmm, yeah he doesn't care about you kool-aid drinkers except at the ballot box.


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Remarks that discriminate based on age, race, religion, disability, etc..


mikel, please.....brevity.


In other words Mikel, Dumb it down so the democrats can understand it. Use small words and keep it under 50 words because they loose intrest and will wander off looking at shiny stuff.


My post is also rather long. My comment was only one sentence long. As was mikel's. These are the folks that agree with him. Hmmm....


Loose or lose? Dumb it down? geez.....


When all else fails become a grammer nazi huh? When you cannot hold your own in a conversation always nit pick the spelling, Predictable.

The Big Dog's back

Why is it you never talk about what Rmoney is going to do?

swiss cheese kat

I would ask Obama if he plans to honor his promise to be a one term president.


Sure thing. You made an error we all do. So glad Mitt was honest. It clearly demonstrated what he thinks of most Americans. Easy on the hate..mein hertz brennt.


How many times is Obie going to use the word "um"?

There has to be an over/under on this

A real good one is going to Ryan vs. Biden. Biden cannot put two words together without inserting his foot in his mouth

swiss cheese kat

Joe Biden finally got it right when he said over the last four years the American middle class has been buried instead of saying the last four years were a consequence of President Bush's policies.

The New World Czar

Take the amount of times he's said "let me be perfectly clear" and "I will not rest" over the past 3+ years, add them together, multiply by the number of months in office up until now, say 45. That comes out to 270. Ambitious but WTH it's a place to start.

The Big Dog's back

Does anyone know what Rmoney's plan is? Other than being racist, what's the Repub plan?


Oblahblah has no plan, yet you fawn over him night and day...and he’s a racist.


Please don't vote on party lines. One of the biggest problems we have in this country today is people going on party lines. All of the repubs disagree with the dems and vice versa. Nothing can get done unless we have a congress and a president belonging to the same party. Terrible! Most people have their minds made up solely on the party of the candidate(s).


Holy cow! I can't believe that Romney brought up the lie about Obama supposedly cutting $716 billion from Medicare. #1, it's not a cut in anyone's coverage, it's a $716 billion savings to the Medicare program (i.e. doctor's get paid less, but people have the SAME coverage). #2, that SAME $716 billion "cut" is in Ryan's tax plan.

Here's how you can tell when Romney is lying: His lips move.


Whether you want to admit it or not, it is a cut. Just how many Doctors do you think will continue to accept Medicare if the payment is less than it costs to provide care? I already know several doctors in the area who won't take anymore medicare patients because the reimbursement is so low. Most already won't accept a medicare patient unless they already have a medicare supplement insurance that covers what medicare won't. Two things will happen with this CUT, doctors will curtail taking on patients whose only coverage is medicare, forcing them to emergency rooms for care, or seniors will be forced to purchase expensive supplemental policies in order to get a doctor to take them as a patient. Either way it puts the cost of caring for medicare patients on either the insured through higher premiums or the seniors through having to buy additional coverage. No matter how you look at it, it is a cut.


@ coasterfan:

Pres. Obama said that Medicare admin. costs were lower than for-profit.

You know why?

Because private health administrators manage payments whereas Medicare and Medicaid shovels the money out the door resulting in an estimated $60 billion annual loss through waste, fraud and abuse.

Then the govt. sends out bureaucrats in an attempt to recoup the stolen money - usually pennies on the dollar.

Guess which system is more cost-effective?


Coasterfan - you need to keep in mind that if you believe anything Romney said last night - he doesn't appear to support a single idea of Ryans. Why is Ryan his running mate?? Romney claimed that nobody knows what his plan is for the budget cuts and spending because he hasn't released the details of that and isn't going to (there absolutely was no change in that idea), but Ryan has been running about talking that Romney supports his budget - in fact, that was one reason Romney gave for selecting Ryan. The lies from Romney never stopped last night.
When directly asked about details of his plans, he once against stated he wasn't releasing that information. He couldn't give a single straight answer but simply turned his answers into more questions - which when it was his turn again, couldn't, wouldn't, or refused to answer more questions.

If he doesn't have a plan - they why constantly cut down someone else's plan? I refuse to vote for someone that doesn't at least tell me what and how he will do something - especially when it obviously is going to directly effect ME!

I heard him clearly state several times that he was going to give the middle income a 20% cut in taxes. My biggest question is then - How does that help? Most TRUE middle income people are only sitting at a tax rate of about 13 or 14% right now - does that mean we all get a guaranteed refund?? No, if you pay attention to what he says and not what you want to hear or what Fox News wants you to hear - Romney has on several occassions stated that middle class are those making 200 thousand dollars and up. I'm sorry, but that makes a very large majority of the population in the poor class doesn't it? Yea, it does - like those of you making 75,000 or 50,000 or even those making 15,000 on a minimum wage job working for a corporation making billions and getting millions in refunds resulting in paying NO TAXES at all. A 20% reduction in their taxes would result in nothign more than higher refunds! When asked about medicaid and other programs he wants to cut from the federal government - he wants to throw those to the states - hmmm - won't that create a very huge problem for the states then? Sure will, bankrupting states a great plan if you want to control the universe - like your typical Mormon does. When the feds have to take over all of the states as a result of forcing more programs onto their already hurting economies, there won't be any states left - just one huge landmass controlled by - wait for it - here it comes - President Romney!!

Doesn't sound too farfetched to me. Talk about taking over your rights, your lives, and everything else you live for - probably including your guns. You are afraid of Obama - wait until the war monger Romney takes over things.

Thank God, it doesn't appear he has a chance in hell of destroying our country and our lives.

Obama has plans - details for those plans - and if the republicans will get out of his way - you may see some changes that will work. Eliminating the middle class is not the way to go about fixing things - and unfortunately, Romney has already made it clear there is no middle class in his world - there are rich and poor. Remember, if you make less than 200,000 dollars, you are poor - not middle class.

Coasterfan and Big Dog are both right. Romney is wrong, dangerous, bad for America, and has no clue about the middle class or the poor.

One last thing, some time ago, Romney clearly stated he was not concerned about the poor.... He repeated it behind closed doors when he talked about the 47%. That about equates to the percentage of the population making less than 200,000 dollars. Actually the number is probably higher than 47%, but it shows you those of us who can think for ourselves and don't need talk show hosts and Fox News to think for us are right.


Obama was a complete and utter failure as a president when he had a majority in both Houses of Congress. He has done nothing to help this country. Nor will he ever.

Last evening's debate just proved what most already knew: He is a mindless fool without his teleprompter.

Time to wake up Steve. Your hero is a zero.


Although he did not do as well as he could have in the debate - Romney did not offer anything at all more than he has in the past - which is NADA. He has not plan whatsoever - he has no clue what the middle class is or how to help us. He has a lot of talking points with no real substance as how to fix anything that's broken. He wants to simple give tax breaks to the rich and "his middle class" of those over 200 thousand dollars and nothing for the rest of us. I don't believe you make over 200 thousand and neither do I - in fact, far from it. He wants to shove the rest of the programs into the states where they can go bankrupt and then he can take over the states as well as the leader of the federal government. He, Romney, has only one plan - kill off the states and create an America much different than it has ever been in the history of this country.

He told more lies during the debate than he has during his campaign - well, what I mean is he reiterated those lies over and over again. He claims that you can't rip his budget plan apart because he doesn't have one yet - but that would only make him then completely oposite of Ryan. He supports Ryan's budget plan and everything that was said last night about that plan was correct - it is a disaster for America and absolutely will raise taxes on the REAL middle class.

The real middle class tax rate is less than 20 percent - how can you lower it by 20 percent??? He has already stated that all of us - including you GOP supporters blogging here are lazy and reliant on the government and he doesn't care about you. You are the poor people based on his own statements.

The GOP has gone nuts trying to eliminate democrats from being able to vote and stating it's because of voter fraud - when in fact, the GOP are the only ones committing voter fraud! It's reported almost on a daily basis now about their tactics to ensure that Romney wins. Not on his merits - but just because they can make it happen illegally or by any means they can.


Moderators have removed this comment because it contained Personal attacks (including: name calling, presumption of guilt or guilt by association, insensitivity, or picking fights).


uhh umm without his telepromptor it was hard to see where Obama was going tonight uhh yeah umm you would vote for your messiah even if he came right out and said he was going to run the economy into the ground. If you actually believe that guy you are pretty stupid.




My god man, what is up with this site and the triple posting.


Ummm, and your post contains an incomplete sentence, proving his point.


Well, one down. I don't think Obama expected Romney to come on that strong but he did. I cannot say that I agreed with all Romeny had to say but of the two, Romney did better than Obama in the debate.

If Obama expects to win this election, he is going to have to come up with something better next time. More facts to set on the table, not the same old, same old.

Whoever prepped Romney for this debate did a good job. He wasn't the same old Romeny, although he did make a few gaffs. I just don't believe all he says. I wish I could believe him, he scares me.

Of the two, I must admit, Romney won this one.


You can thank Ohio's own Rob Portman, he was Romney's debate coach.

M Cindric

The problem I see with the Obama-Romney debate is that the participants are talking about totally different things. For example, when Mitt Romney speaks of “healthcare,” he is talking about an industry made up of conglomerate corporations. When President Obama speaks of healthcare, he is talking about a society that collectively aids its poor, weak, and aged members rather than putting them on an ice floe and forgetting them. So, when both say they are going to improve healthcare, they are saying very different things.
In the same way, the President and his rival have completely different views of the nation’s economy. Braggadocio is easy for Romney because he is thinking of quick fixes to patch up the quarterly report, not long-term improvements to create stability and prosperity for all. It is no wonder that the President appears serious and somber in the face of the hard work and patience required to build a truly strong economy.
Most important, I think, is that Mitt Romney is talking about a small segment of our society when he says “middle class.” Actually, he is using the term correctly to describe the business-owners, professionals, and corporate executives that are distinct from President Obama’s perception of America’s huge working class as somehow being middle class – a polite mislabeling by a humble and sensitive gentleman. Romney really means that he wants to focus his attention on that much smaller group while Obama just wants to make life better for everyone.
So, in preparation for further debates between these men, one must be prepared to distinguish labels properly. For example, when Mitt Romney talks about “foreign affairs,” think “reckless bullying” rather than anything like the diplomacy and world-view of the President. When Romney says “education,” he really means segregation, compared to Obama’s “equal opportunity,” and I do not just mean race. As I see it, whenever Romney denies what he said previously, it is probably because he has adopted something worse. Barrack Obama has not changed his “plan” since I’ve known of him, he doesn’t have to.