Some notable moments from the first presidential debate Wednesday night between Democratic President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, just 34 days before the Nov. 6 election.
FIGHTING OVER THE FACTS
The debate brought a constant tug-and-pull over the facts: Obama’s version versus Romney’s.
Romney accused Obama of mischaracterizing several parts of his agenda, from taxes to Wall Street reform. Romney told the president that as the father of five sons, “I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it.”
At another point, Romney said, “Mr. President, you’re entitled to your own house and your own airplane, but not your own facts.”
Obama repeatedly accused Romney of pushing for changes to Medicare that would turn it into a voucher-like program.
To those in the audience, Obama said: “If you’re 54 or 55, you might want to listen.”
PBS newsman Jim Lehrer got mixed reviews for his role as the moderator.
The two candidates strayed from the time limits throughout the debate and Lehrer struggled to enforce the set 15-minute segments covering the economy, health care and other topics. The result was a steady back-and-forth between Obama and Romney, with the candidates often talking over themselves.
Many viewers took to Twitter, panning Lehrer’s handling of the debate.
Romney even said he’d cut funding for Lehrer’s network. “I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS ... I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too. But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.”
Obama was quick to offer praise to Lehrer, though, saying near the end of the debate that he did a “great job.”
If you were a wonk, this was the debate for you. Obama and Romney appeared far more at ease comparing policy ratings than with trading zingers.
“The National Federation of Independent Businesses said your plan will kill 700,000 jobs,” Romney said at one point, accusing Obama of pushing a plan that would hurt small businesses.
In another, Romney cited two groups — the Congressional Budget Office and McKinsey and Co. — as a reason why Obama’s health care law was hurting the country.
But Obama had his own insider comeback, pointing to the AARP. “And this is not only my opinion. AARP thinks that,” Obama said. “AARP has said that your plan would weaken Medicare substantially.”
For a campaign where a new attack line has emerged nearly every week, exactly zero of this campaign’s string of catch-phrases made it into the debate.
Obama was silent on “47 percent,” the reference to Romney’s now-famous critique of Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes.
Likewise, Romney didn’t touch Vice President Joe Biden’s comment from Tuesday, that the middle class had been “buried” the past four years. However, Romney did use the term “buried” in his own comments, and used another, “crushed,” three times.
Nowhere in Obama’s comments was Romney’s private equity firm, Bain Capital, which the Democrat demonizes as a job-killing corporate predator, nor the fact that Romney has personal assets in Swiss bank accounts.
To complete the parade of hits not made, Romney failed to mention this summer favorite, Obama’s “you didn’t build it” remark referring to small businesses.
The start of the debate offered a light moment: Obama offered anniversary wishes to his wife, first lady Michelle Obama.
The president said 20 years ago, he “became the luckiest man on earth” when they got married.
Calling the first lady “sweetie,” Obama said from the debate podium that a year from now, “we will not be celebrating it in front of 40 million people.”
Romney offered his congratulations with a touch of humor: “I’m sure it’s the most romantic place you can imagine, here with me.”
HEALTH CARE LEVITY
For being a major sticking point, the 2010 health care law — nicknamed “Obamacare” by opponents — became a rare point of lighthearted banter during the debate.
“Obamacare is on my list,” Romney said in listing programs he would eliminate. “I apologize, Mr. President. I use the term with all respect, by the way.” Romney grinned and chuckled in Obama’s direction.
But Obama absorbed the critique by embracing the term. “I like it,” Obama replied to Romney, smiling.
Later in the debate, Obama brought it up on his own. “I have become fond of this term, ‘Obamacare,”’ the president said grinning.