Romney On Top As Obama Stumbles In TV Debate
Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have come face-to-face for the first time in the race for the White House, clashing over tax cuts and healthcare.
With just five weeks to go until polling, the incumbent Democrat president and the Republican challenger squared off at an ice hockey arena at the University of Denver.
Mr Romney needed a strong showing as, despite national polls showing the two candidates in a tight race Mr Obama has the advantage in many of the key battlegrounds, including Colorado.
And the Republican appeared the most confident, prepared and at ease of the two men during the encounter.
Mr Obama opened with a brief moment of levity, wishing the First Lady a happy wedding anniversary.
His rival joked: "Congratulations to you, Mr President, on your anniversary. I'm sure this is the most romantic place you could imagine, here with me."
Mr Romney was on the offensive from the start, challenging Mr Obama's "inaccurate" assertion that he planned to make tax cuts of about $5 trillion (£3.1trn) as the 90-minute debate opened with a focus on the economy.
"My view is that we ought to provide tax relief to people in the middle class but I am not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people. High-income people are doing just fine in this economy," he said.
"Under the president's policies, middle-income families have been buried, they have been crushed. They have seen their income down by $4,300.
"There will be no tax cut that will add to the deficit but I want to reduce the burden paid by middle America."
But Mr Obama repeated his claim that the Republican was planning huge tax cuts, and questioned how he would pay for those.
"Governor Romney's proposal, which he has been promoting for 18 months, calls for a $5trn tax cut on top of $2trn of additional spending for our military and he is saying he's going to pay for it by closing loopholes and deductions," he said.
"The problem is he has been asked over 100 times how he will close those loopholes and deductions and he hasn't been able to identify them.
"But when you add up all those loopholes and deductions that upper income households are taking advantage of and you take those all away you don't come close to $5tn in tax cuts and $2tn in additional military spending."
He also sought to remind the public that he inherited the "trillion-dollar deficit" from his Republican predecessor George Bush.
"Two wars that were paid for on a credit card. Two tax cuts that were not paid for. And a whole bunch of programmes not paid for and then a massive economic crisis," he said.
The President suggested returning to Clinton-era tax rates in order to improve economic growth. He said that "common sense" showed that Mr Romney's economic plans would not result in more jobs being created.
But Mr Romney accused Mr Obama of shackling US industry with "excessive" regulation that has stunted economic growth.
He also attacked so-called Obamacare - which he would repeal if he is elected - as costly, undemocratic and discouraging businesses from employing people.
"I just don't know how the President could come into office, facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment, an economic crisis at the kitchen table, and spend his energy and passion for two years fighting for Obamacare instead of fighting for jobs," he said.
But Mr Obama countered that the healthcare system needed to be reformed because families "were worried about going bankrupt if they got sick".
"If they had a pre-existing condition they might not have been able to get coverage at all. If they did have coverage, insurance companies might impose an arbitrary limit. As a consequence if someone gets really sick, low and behold they don't have enough money to pay the bills," he said.
The next two debates are October 16 in New York and October 22 in Florida.
Vice President Joe Biden and Romney's running mate, congressman Paul Ryan, will also face each other on October 11 in Kentucky.