After months of political positioning and spin from both parties, the moment of truth finally arrived at the University of Denver Wednesday night, as the first debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney featured an aggressive challenger and a somewhat less energetic incumbent.
While both sides declared victory afterwards, Romney seemed to be the one in charge during this debate, repeatedly stepping in to take control of the discussion as he pressed the attack on the record of the Obama Administration.
“Going forward with the status quo is not going to cut it for the American people who are struggling today,” said Romney, whose performance left Republicans giddy afterwards.
"I thought that Mitt Romney won the debate on points," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who had played the President during debate practice with Romney.
"But more important to me, I think he helped to change the dynamic of this race," Portman added.
"I found the President completely uncomfortable," said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
No more than ten feet away, top Obama officials pushed back, labeling Romney "aggressive" and "testy."
"The President was more likeable tonight," said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina. "That's why my guy won."
But even Obama backers weren't so sure, as James Carville told CNN that the President "didn't bring his 'A' game." More liberal voices on MSNBC were also less than charitable.
The main pushback from the President and his top aides was that Romney wasn't telling the truth, that he was playing fast and loose with the facts of his economic plans.
"It's math, it's arithmetic," said the President, who argued that Romney's plans would squeeze the middle class, and are not a "recipe for job growth."
But the President's biggest problem seemed to be that he wasn't on his game, as he stammered through lines that he often says with gusto on the campaign trail.
Liberal bloggers described Romney's performance as aggressive and clear, while the President was derided by some as unfocused and meandering; he never brought up Romney's "47%" line or Bain Capital and had very few solid sound bites.
So, it looks like the next debate will matter - October 16 at Hofstra Univeristy in New York.
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