5 Key Takeaways from the Denver Debate

PHOTO: Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama wave to the audience during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver.
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DENVER -- The first presidential debate Wednesday night lacked a "defining moment" that will mark its place in the history books. But Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney still managed to take advantage of his time there to go on the offensive against President Barack Obama and attempt to improve his standing with voters. Did it work? Depends on who you ask. What is clear, is that even without a defining moment, there were a few key exchanges worth noting.

1. Obama: "Jim, I -- you may want to move onto another topic."

That line from President Obama came after Mitt Romney spent the crucial opening minutes of the debate putting the president on the defensive during a discussion about taxes and economic growth.

The Republican ticked off his 5-point job creation plan and quickly critiqued the president's first-term record on job creation and deficit reduction without getting too personal or sounding capricious.

"I'm concerned that the path that we're on has just been unsuccessful. The president has a view very similar to the view he had when he ran four years ago, that a bigger government, spending more, taxing more, regulating more -- if you will, trickle-down government -- would work," Romney said.

The president responded by attacking Romney's tax plan, saying it would cut taxes on the rich and for failing to explain how he would offset it so that it would not add to the budget deficit.

"It is not possible to come up with enough deductions and loopholes that only affect high-income individuals to avoid either raising the deficit or burdening the middle class," Obama said. "It's math. It's arithmetic."

Neither candidate landed a crushing blow during the opening exchange, and both candidates used their own version of the facts (as ABC News recounts here) to buttress their points.

But it was evident that Romney appeared more energized and presented a more direct message to the millions of voters watching at home. While Obama was able to counterpunch and poke holes in Romney's tax plan, he struggled at the outset to explain how his own plan would help spark growth and often found himself in the weeds explaining his policies, such as his healthcare law.

And as evidenced by Obama's plea to moderator Jim Lehrer, Romney felt more comfortable speaking about taxes and the deficit.

"Excuse me. Excuse me. Just so everybody understands, we're way over our first 15 minutes," Lehrer said.

"It's fun, isn't it?" Romney replied.

2. Romney to Jim Lehrer: "I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too."

One of Romney's central problems is that he often appears stiff and aloof on the campaign trail. That's why it was notable how comfortable he appeared on the debate stage.

While the debate was mostly bereft of the so-called "zingers" many had anticipated to consume the discussion, Romney had some lines that made him more human that he often appears.

He used the above line when explaining why he would cut funding for public broadcasting as part of his effort to shrink the budget deficit (although they account for a minuscule portion of federal spending).

Romney also landed this blow against Obama after he said the Republican candidate would cut funding for student loans and even implied, in a meandering way, that Romney can't relate to the recipients of those loans.

"Mr. President, you're entitled as the president to your own airplane and to your own house, but not to your own facts," he said.

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