President Obama and Mitt Romney entered the final formative stage of their campaign tonight when they squared off in the first of three nationally televised debates.
The incumbent Democrat and his Republican challenger were meeting for 90 minutes at the University of Denver in a debate sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Jim Lehrer of PBS was the moderator. An audience of up to 50 million was expected to watch.
The debate was being shown live on network television and C-Span. Boston.com, BostonGlobe.com, and “Political Intelligence” offered this live blog to chronicle the pre-debate hype and debate itself.
All three also offered contemporaneous fact-checking and analysis from Globe reporters expert in various fields, creating a unique “second-screen” experience for viewers seeking additional context for what they are seeing on TV.
The blog also served as a window into the debate to those not near a TV.
Obama and Romney also will debate on Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., and Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.
Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan will have a single debate, on Oct. 11 at Centre College in Danville, Ky.
10:34 p.m.—In uplifting moment, Romney introduces family members to president.
Romney then returns to his podium, gets his notes, and hands them to son Josh.
With that, the debate is over.
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10:33 p.m.—Nearly three minutes over, the debate ends with another handshake at center stage, before candidates move to see their families. President shaking hands with and greeting Romney family.
10:29 p.m.—Romney, too, thanks organizers and Obama “for tuning in this evening.”
Then he segues to say he is concerned about America.
The election, he says, is bigger than the two of them; it’s about the course for the country.
“There’s no question in my mind if the president is reelected, there’s going to continue to be a middle-class squeeze,” he says.
Romney, though, says, “If I’m elected, we won’t have Obamacare.” He then ticks off other differences between the two if one or the other is elected.
“I will not cut our commitment to our military,” he pledges.
10:28 p.m.—In closing, Obama thanks Romney and organizers.
Then segues to say, despite crisis he faced taking office, he is still inspired by American people.
“The question now is how do we build on those strengths,” he says.
Obama notes he said he wouldn’t be perfect man, but would fight every day for the middle class.
10:27 p.m.—President quips that Romney will have busy first day, since he has also vowed to repeal Obamacare on his first day.
“That’s not going to be very popular with Democrats even as you’re sitting down with them,” says Obama.
He says a president has to lay out his plans, and also be willing to say no to members of both parties.
10:25 p.m.—Lehrer, trying to rein in candidates, reminds they have three minutes left before closings.
He asks, what would you do about partisanship if you are elected.
Romney tees off by noting he has worked with Democrats as Massachusetts governor. Says he would meet with Democratic as well as Republican leaders on day after he is elected.
“The reason I am in this race is because there are people who are really hurting today,” he says.
10:22 p.m.—Romney, after about 20 minutes on his heels, has been on attack since, making good on his longtime campaign statement that he couldn’t wait to be on debate stage with Obama.
He has not only outlined his programs, but rebutted president’s characterization of them.
Says, as president, he is entitled to own house and plane, “but not your own facts.”
10:19 p.m.—Obama says that on subject of education, government “has a significant” role to play.
“This is where budgets matter, because budgets reflect choices,” says president, returning to tax cuts he says Romney favors and which he warns will cause cuts in education and other social programs.
10:18 p.m.—“What we’re seeing right now, in my view, is a trickle-down government approach” with goverment thinking it knows best.
“We know that the path we are taking is not working; it’s time for a new path,” says Romney.
10:16 p.m.—Romney says, “I love great schools; in Massachusetts, our schools are ranked No. 1.”
And he says that role of government is to protect life and liberty, with military second to none. He adds, quoting Constitution, he says commitment to religious tolerance.
This is right from his stump speech, by the way.
10:14 p.m.—Lehrer shifts to segment on role of government in society.
Obama says, yes. First role, he says, is to keep Americans safe, and he has worked on that every day.
But he also says federal government can open up “ladders of opportunity,” yet there are things that must be done together, like creating transcontinental railroad or land-grant colleges.
10:12 p.m.—Romney counters his experience is not to spell out “my way or the highway,” but to lay out broad principles and then negotiate them with Congress, as he did with Massachusetts Legislature.
He says he would bring down tax rates and broaden the code, and with health care, he says president can rebut it because he has offered principles of his health care plan.
10:10 p.m.—Obama says Romney created Massachusetts plan not as a government takeover of health care, yet he levels that charge against Obama plan based on it.
Then he continues that Romney won’t be specific on replacing Obamacare, just like he won’t detail how to repeal Dodd-Frank.
He asks, is he not revealing them because the answers are “too good?”
10:09 p.m.—Romney pounds away on concept of “unelected board” deciding how to control costs.
“The right answer is not to have the federal government take over medical care,” says Romney. “The private market—and individual responsibility—always work best.”
The president retorts that board cannot make coverage decisions, that it is specifically outlawed in Obamacare law.
10:07 p.m.—Both candidates turn around to look behind them after there is the sound of something dropping there.
10:06 p.m.—President says when his plan is fully implemented, costs will come down, and cost increases have already slowed.
And president charges Romney wants to repeal it without saying how he would replace it, expect to say he would leave it up to states.
President says that would not guarantee coverage across state lines, etc.
10:05 p.m.—CNN has a speaking time clock. Right now, it reads Obama 29:30, Romney 27:00.
10:04 p.m.—“I think something this big, this important, has to be done on a bipartisan basis,” says Romney.
Obama counters that Obamacare was based on Massachusetts plan, and Republicans in Congress could have learned from Massachusetts Democrats’ lesson in cooperation for the greater good.
10:02 p.m.—Romney counters that he placed Romneycare with Democratic support, while Obama did it without a single Republican vote—and despite Senator Scott Brown’s election to stop it.
10:01 p.m.—“The irony is, we’ve seen this model work—in Massachusetts,” says Obama.
He pushes back against Lehrer as he tried to cut him off, saying he had five second left when moderator interrupted.
Then president spoke for about a minute more.
10 p.m.—Obama says he, too, had same voter conversations four years ago. And people then talked about how rising health care costs were hurting them, along with losing coverage.
“We did work on this, alongside with creating jobs,” says president.
9:59 p.m.—“It has killed jobs,” Romney says of Obamacare, and that should have been president’s big focus.
9:58 p.m.—Romney again tells stories of people he has met, who say they are dropping health care because of cost of Obamacare.
“Expensive things hurt families,” says Romney. Also says he opposes it because of Medicare cuts, and creates board to review health spending.
9:55 p.m.—Obama says law is toughest law since Great Depression.
On Romney wanting to repeal Dodd-Frank, “The question is, does anybody out there think that the big problem we had was there was too much regulation.”
If you do, says president, “then Governor Romney is your candidate.”
Romney cuts in, saying that is not true. He favors regulation, but not “blank checks” to big banks.
“It’s been two years; we don’t know what a ‘qualified mortgage’ is yet,” he says. “I will make sure that we don’t hurt the functioning of our marketplace.
Now on to health care.
9:53 p.m.—The candidates segues to a debate about repealing Dodd-Frank financial regulation package.
9:51 p.m.—Lehrer asks, can we agree there is a difference in the approach to Medicare.
“Absolutely,” says Romney, as Obama says, “Yes.”
9:48 p.m.—Lehrer asks Romney if he supports voucher program. Romney says he favors no changes for current recipients on near-retirees, but younger people would be offered choice between voucher or government program. He says he would personally favor voucher.
And Romney retorts that top Democrats have supported competition in Medicare world.
“I believe in competition,” says Romney.
9:47 p.m.—“I don’t think vouchers are the right way to go,” says Obama, saying AARP agrees with him.
And he says “if you repeal Obamacare,” you will hike costs for seniors and benefit insurance companies.
9:45 p.m.—Obama notes that Romney, in essence, favors voucher program for future potential recipients.
Says idea was initially proposed by Paul Ryan, “your running mate,” says president.
But Obama says that voucher wouldn’t keep up with inflation.
9:43 p.m.—Romney says of Social Security, “Our seniors depend on these programs,” and “neither the president nor I” propose any changes for current retirees.
Then he corrects himself, saying Obama wants to cut $716 billion from Medicare by cutting rates paid to hospitals. Romney notes some hospitals and doctors say they won’t take more patient if that happens.
“I don’t understand how you can cut $716 billion for Medicare for current recipients of Medicare,” says Romney.
9:41 p.m.—Lehrer shifts to third segment: entitlements. He asks Obama if there is a difference between them on Social Security.
President says they have same basic approach, and “tweaks” might be needed.
Obama then segues to talk about values behind program and Medicare, saying his own family could be independent because of that safety net. Not an entitlement, he says, but a guarantee.
9:39 p.m.—Romney starts point-by-point rebuttal, saying oil company gets nearly $3 billion in tax breaks but Obama gave nearly $90 billion to green energy industry.
“Don’t forget, you put $90 billion, 50 years worth,” into Solyndra, digging that president doesn’t just pick winner and losers, “you pick the losers.”
9:37 p.m.—Obama says without asking for new revenue, it would create “severe hardship” and not help country grow.
He predicts massive cut in Medicare, adding, “That’s a big problem.”
9:36 p.m.—Obama says with “balanced approach,” you can help kids go to college, teacher cut classroom size.
9:34 p.m.—“There has to be more revenue; Governor Romney has ruled out new revenue,” says Obama.
“Absolutely,” replies Romney.
He says he gets new revenue through economic growth.
His early debate jitters settled, Romney is now starting to bore into president over failure to meet 2008 campaign pledge of halving deficit during first term.
9:31 p.m.—Obama says this is a major difference, because Romney said in primaries he would not even take $10 in cuts for $1 in revenue (read: taxes).
Obama says that would trigger massive program cuts.
“That is not a strategy for us moving forward,” says president.
Romney chides him for not claiming Simpson-Bowles report.
“You’ve been president for four years,” he says, and deficit has not been cut in half as Obama promised in first campaign.
“That doesn’t get the job done,” says Romney.
9:29 p.m.—Romney says he would cut “Obamacare,” and apologizes for using that term, but Obama says, “I like it.”
Romney also apologizes to Lehrer for saying he would cut spending on public broadcasting.
He says he would only borrow from China that are worthy it.
Obama responds by listing programs and waste he has cut.
“We all know that we’ve got to do more, so I’ve put forward a specific $4 trillion deficit-reduction program,” wuth $1 in new revenue for $2.50 in cuts.
9:27 p.m—In second segment, Lehrer asks Romney to state differences on approaching deficit.
Romney says it is not economic issue as much as it is a “moral” issue.
He says it can be cut with higher taxes, less spending, or economic growth.
“The president would prefer raising taxes,” he says, which will cut growth.
Romney says he favors less spending and more growth.
9:26 p.m.—As Romney rebuts Obama claim he favors $5 trillion tax cut, we’re reminded of Romney prediction that president would lie in debate.
He’s not saying that directly now, but indirectly with his answer.
9:24 p.m.—Obama says, “I think math, common sense, and our history” shows that doesn’t work. Says Bush trickle-down approach didn’t work, while Clinton’s did.
“We’ve got some data on which job is more likely to create jobs,” says Obama.
9:22 p.m.—Lehrer notes they are past the 15 minutes allotted to the segment, but still allows Romney to rebut.
Romney once again talks about people he has met on the trail and the challenges they face.
He argues that by raising taxes on those making over $250,000, he will hurt them.
“I don’t want to cost jobs; my priority is on creating jobs,” says Romney.
9:21 p.m.—After Romney quip abotu kids, Obama gets one in about Donald Trump, saying Romney would consider billionaire a small business and Trump doesn’t think of himself as “small anything.”
9:20 p.m.—Obama sharpens attack, saying Romney has been running on a tax plan but now seems to be saying, “Never mind.”
Obama repeats Bill Clinton’s speech line about “it’s math,” to say Romney numbers don’t add up.
9:19 p.m.—Both candidates have on dark suits, Romney a red tie, Obama a blue one. And both have on American flag pins with the Secret Service logo in-laid on them.
9:17 p.m.—Romney says, “Virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate.” He repeats that he will support no tax cut that adds to the deficit.
“I’ve got five boys; I’m used to people saying things that aren’t true,” says Romney.
9:17 p.m.—As Obama speaks, Romney is taking notes.
9:15 p.m.—For those watching, consider this: These two men competing each other have not stood face-to-face for eight years, since a Gridiron Dinner in Washington.
This has been a campaign, to date, fought at the safety of a distance.
9:14 p.m.—Romney says his energy plan would contrast with Obama’s efforts to close off production.
On taxes, Romney says he is not looking for massive tax cuts, or one that adds to deficit, “but I do want to reduce the burden paid by middle-class Americans.”
9:12 p.m.—Lehrer asks Romney if he wants to ask Obama a question about his answer.
Romney says he doesn’t want $5 trillion tax cut, but cuts for middle class.
He says everyday costs for gas, food, health care have gone up for Obama.
“The question is now to get ’em going again,” says Romney.
He says he, too, favors educational investment.
9:10 p.m.—Lehrer asks Obama to talk about “trickle-down.” Critique it.
President talks about educational investment, and plans to hire new teachers and invest in community colleges. Also says he wants to revamp tax code, while closing loopholes, and boost energy production.
“All of this is possible,” with deficit reduction and tax changes, says Obama, but Romney wants $5 trillion tax cut on top of Bush tax cut extensions and more military spending.
9:07 p.m.—Romney jokes about Obama anniversary, joking president would probably not want to be anywhere else “but with me.”
But then, humanizing his approach, says his economic agenda is not about “top-down,” but job creation.
Then he ticks off his five-point job creation plan.
“I know what it takes to get small business growing again,” says Romney.
9:05 p.m.—Obama says country is still hurting, but debate not about where we are, but where we’re going.
Says Romney wants to try old approaches, “double-down” on policies that created problem, or chart new course of investment.
9:04 p.m.—Obama says Happy Anniversary to “sweetie” Michelle Obama, and promises that in a year, they will not celebrate “in front of 40 million people.”
9:04 p.m.—Obama is at Stage Left. Romney at Stage Right.
“What are the major differences between the two of you about how you would go about creating jobs,” asks Lehrer.
9:03—Obama and Romney enter and shake hands at center stage. The money shot. Obama will get the first question, the result of a draw.
9:02 p.m.—After networks kick off their broadcasts, moderator Jim Lehrer opens the debate. He has been in his seat for several minutes after imploring the audience to be silent. The candidates are about to join him on stage.
8:54 p.m.—Behind Ann Romney is Scott Romney, the nominee’s older brother.
8:53 p.m.—For a presidential debate veteran, Michelle Obama appears nervous.
8:48 p.m.—Ann Romney walks over to embrace Michelle Obama as they are introduced. Believe it is the first time they have met.
There is a sisterhood/brotherhood for candidate spouses, who endure plenty of angst in long race.
8:46 p.m.—After instructions from debate organizers for audience to turn off cell phones, both Ann Romney and Michelle Obama have entered the debate hall and taken their seats.
8:40 p.m.—The Romney campaign’s “body man,” candidate personal aide Garrett Jackson, is tweeting pictures of the governor at his hotel with grandkids this afternoon, riding to the debate with Ann as they hold hands, and, now, backstage watching the grandkids play “Jenga.”
8:30 p.m.—The president has arrived at the debate hall.
And the Romney campaign is already e-mailing about its “rapid-response” site.
In fairness, the Obama campaign is up and running, too.
For those watching at home, consider this: Tonight is the 20th wedding anniversary for Barack and Michelle Obama.
8:10 p.m.—The president is en route to the debate hall.
Per the White House pool report, “The pool heard cheers and chants of ‘four more years’ from a good size crowd opposite the hotel.”
8:07 p.m.—Mitt Romney has already arrived at the debate hall. President Obama is surely en route soon.
As Secret Service protectees, neither one has to worry about traffic delays. They get a clear shot to the University of Denver.Glen Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.