DENVER - Mitt Romney took the stage at the first presidential debate at the University of Denver last night with a lot to prove - and he delivered.
The Republican challenger found his footing against the incumbent president in a way that forced even some of his harshest critics to acknowledge that he had a good debate.
"Governor Romney attacked pretty well; we understand that's what he had to do tonight," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said in the spin room after last night's first-ever face-off between the two candidates, but, he added, Romney "didn't lay out where he wants to take this country."
Republicans were elated by Romney's performance.
"This was about as big a knock-out punch in a presidential debate as we've ever seen," said former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. His spin room counterpart, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said President Obama looked "incredibly uncomfortable."
"He was not comfortable talking about taxes and the economy," Rubio said. "He had a few sound bites his advisors had fed him, but once he put those out there and Gov Romney was able to refute them, he had nothing else to say."
But as the dust clears today, and as both candidates begin a frenzied month-long period of campaigning before Nov. 6, it's worth noting that nothing has changed about Romney's steep climb to 270 electoral votes - at least not yet. Romney aides say wait a week and the proof will be in the polling.
A focus group of Walmart moms in Las Vegas, sponsored by Walmart and moderated by bi-partisan pollsters, revealed mixed reactions to each candidate in last night's debate but a broad sense that Romney was the victor, ABC's Elizabeth Hartfield notes.
Even so, the women didn't walk away seeing Romney in a very positive light. When asked to describe their impressions of Romney, the women used words like "rude," "pushy" and "assertive" - and when asked to clarify if assertive was positive or negative, the woman who offered that description said it was negative. The women's impressions of Obama weren't positive either. Words used to describe the president included "defeated," "backpedaling" and "speaking the same game." http://abcn.ws/O6AxBe
And in a dial group session held last night in Aurora, Colorado by the pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action, a group of "weak Democrats and independents who voted for Obama in 2008 but who remain open to switching in the upcoming election" gave the president better ratings.
According to pollster Geoff Garin: "The large majority of panelists in the Aurora session were weak Democrats and independents who voted for Obama in 2008 but who remain open to switching in the upcoming election. Six in 10 respondents gave President Obama favorable ratings for his overall performance in the debate, compared with just one in seven who did so for Romney."
But as ABC Political Director Amy Walter notes, at the end of the night both men failed the empathy test. They both threw out lots of numbers and policy prescriptions but they failed to connect those to real people.
ABC's Devin Dwyer contributed reporting from Denver, Colo.
ANALYSIS: MITT ROMNEY BROUGHT DEBATE TO PRESIDENT OBAMA'S SOFT SPOTS. ABC's Rick Klein: Mitt Romney got the debate he needed by bringing the campaign back to the recent past. Romney's point-by-point critique of President Obama's record was sharp, specific and sustained. He managed to steer the debate toward the central challenge of the Obama reelection campaign: the disappointment over his own unfulfilled promise. It was a highly clinical debate, even wonky. The exchanges were noticeably lacking in humanity, geared very much for grown-ups - notwithstanding Romney's Big Bird shout-out. Obama had Romney on the defensive at key points, particularly when the discussion came to entitlements and the Paul Ryan plan. But he didn't come primed to make this race about his opponent the same way Romney did. http://abcn.ws/VxmQN9
HOW THE DEBATE PLAYED ONLINE:
From the team at Twitter: @gov : Tonight's debate was the most tweeted about event in US political history, topping the numbers from the RNC and DNC.
More from Twitter: "In just the 90 minutes the candidates were on stage, tonight's debate generated more than 10.3 million Tweets. That handily tops the 9.5 million Tweets measured across the several days of the Democratic Convention last month, or the about 4 million Tweets of the Republican Convention. The most-tweeted moment came shortly before 10 p.m. EDT, with 158,690 Tweets being sent in a single minute following moderator Jim Lehrer's 'Let's not' reply to Governor Romney. This peak was more than three times the roughly 52,000 Tweets per minute political record observed at the end of President Obama's convention speech."
From Google: "We turned to Google Search interest to see what issues Americans were most interested in during last night's presidential debate. Simpson-Bowles led the way, followed by Dodd-Frank and who is winning the debate. The term big bird came in fourth, based on a comment made by Gov. Romney."
The Note's virtual political roundtable:
ABC's RICK KLEIN: Mitt Romney will take a debate about numbers, and he'll take any debate that comes off anything like the first one. Romney was specific and memorable, while President Obama seemed without a strategy. It's rare, in this Twitter/hyper-partisan/hyperactive age, that one candidate is so universally declared to be a winner - akin to repeating as World Series champion in the wild card era. Romney's challenge now will be to take one night's judgments and stretch them over a month. He drew his own roadmap, but not every day will be a debate day.
AMERICAN FUTURE FUND RELEASES NEW AD IN IOWA "SECURITY." American Future Fund, a conservative outside spending group, is releasing a new ad today in Iowa slamming Obama for skipping national security briefings, and highlighting the recent assassination of the U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens. The group spent $343,000 on the buy, and the 30-second spot is slated to run in the Hawkeye state through October 10, with an option to expand beyond that. WATCH: http://bit.ly/PzGbIf
CHAMBER OF COMMERCE IS IN THE HOUSE - AGAIN. In another state where the presidential race is all but settled and the airwaves are relatively quiet, the U.S. Chamber will fill the void with a series of new House ads. Last week, the Chamber began its current House blitz with new TV ads in eight California districts, and today it will announce new TV ads in six New York districts, hitting Democrats on health care, spending, taxes, and regulations. The Chamber will also air TV ads defending two Democrats, Georgia Rep. John Barrow and Utah Rep. Jim Matheson (who faces a challenge from rising GOP star Mia Love), and a radio ad attacking Democrat Lois Frankel in Florida's new 22nd District. With ads in nine new districts, the Chamber is now involved in 19 House races total. WATCH: NY-1 - Rep. Tim Bishop - http://bit.ly/Rf8Nbm; NY-18 - Sean Maloney - http://bit.ly/T377AL; NY-21 - Rep. Bill Owens - http://bit.ly/Pct7hi; NY-24 - Rep. Dan Maffei - http://bit.ly/Wot9SN; NY-25 - Rep. Louise Slaughter - http://bit.ly/PctcBr; NY-27 - Rep. Kathy Hochul - http://bit.ly/Pctd8G; GA-12 - Rep. John Barrow - http://bit.ly/T37Odq; UT-4 - Rep. Jim Matheson - http://bit.ly/PzJmzA
with Elizabeth Hartfield ( @LizHartfield)
ROMNEY COMES OUT SWINGING: EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW. ABC's Russell Goldman reports: Mitt Romney came out swinging in the first presidential debate, challenging President Obama over his health care reforms, treatment of the economy, taxes and funding for Sesame Street's Big Bird. Romney jabbed the president, calling his approach "trickle-down government" and accusing him of spending his time in office concentrating on passing his health care plan at the expense of creating jobs. "Under the president's policies, middle-income Americans have been buried. They're just being crushed," Romney said. The debate in Denver was the first of three debates the two candidates will have between them over the next four weeks before Election Day. Their initial meeting was wonky in its discussion of policy details and failed to produce any real fireworks, with both candidates returning to well tread talking points. http://abcn.ws/QSLg2I
THE PRESIDENTIAL DEBATES BIGGEST LOSER? BIG BIRD. While President Obama and Mitt Romney were trying to tout their economic plans, the social media sphere was massively distracted by a big yellow bird - Big Bird that is, ABC's Amy Bingham notes. After Romney said, "I love Big Bird," but that he plans to cut funding for PBS anyhow, social media exploded with tweets about the "Sesame Street" character. According to Twitter data, the words "Big Bird" were tweeted 17,000 times per minute and "PBS," the channel that airs "Sesame Street," peaked at 10,000 tweets per minute."Big Bird" was also the fourth highest-rising search term on Google. Romney's comment sparked the hashtag #SaveBigBird, which was trending worldwide, and spawned at least three pro-Big Bird Twitter handles, @BigBird, @BigBirdRomney and @FiredBigBird. http://abcn.ws/PbNStA
THE TOP QUOTES OF THE NIGHT. ABC's Amy Bingham takes a look at the top quotes of the debate, from Romney's shout-out to Big Bird to Obama discussing the health care law in Massachusetts. http://abcn.ws/UgPUdS
ON TWITTER AND APPS, AUDIENCE AT HOME SCORES THE DEBATE. The New York Times' Brian Stelter reports: "Presidential debates are customarily scored and picked apart the instant the moderator says "good night" at 10:30 p.m. But the Web is speeding up time. When the first of this season's debates started on Wednesday in Denver, the scoring began at 9:01 p.m., as soon as Jim Lehrer, the moderator, said "Good evening."… The recent surge in so-called second-screen behavior was vividly on display during the debate, both on social networking sites like Twitter that barely existed four years ago and on all manner of even newer apps promoted by media companies. At least half a dozen outlets, as varied as CNBC and The Huffington Post, had debate drinking games ready to go beforehand. Afterward, the television networks that used to have a monopoly on pre- and postgame shows tapped into the torrent of online opinions." http://nyti.ms/T4PCFB
SOME QUESTIONS STILL UNANSWERED FOR COLORADO VOTERS FOLLOWING DEBATE. The Denver Post's Jeremy P. Meyer reports: "A group of undecided voters who gathered at The Denver Post to watch Wednesday's debate came away mostly still on the fence about who to support Nov. 6…. Those who agreed to watch the debate at The Post were a cross-section - ages ranging from early 20s to mid-60s and hailing from throughout the metro region. Some were unemployed, others were underemployed. There was a teacher, a financial adviser and a couple of students. Most were unaffiliated voters, and almost everyone was simply dissatisfied with the choice between former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama." http://bit.ly/SEafm9
SMALL BUSINESS OWNERS IN SWING STATES GIVE DEBATE EDGE TO ROMNEY. The Washington Post's J.D. Harrison reports: "Small business owners in each of the nine most closely contested swing states shared their thoughts with us immediately following the debate, and echoing the consensus among political pundits, most awarded victory to the Republican challenger. Six of the nine commentators said Romney won the debate; only one of them calling it even a close contest. The remaining three business owners said the candidates tied. Meanwhile, Obama received a great deal of criticism for his lack of engagement and occasionally vague responses, and Jim Lehrer, the moderator, took plenty of heat for losing control of the debate." http://wapo.st/T4kPZs
YOUR VOICE, YOUR VOTE: COLORADO REPUBLICANS SOUNDS OFF. Even Mitt Romney's most ardent supporters in this key swing state have a message for him heading into the final month before Election Day: "Play a little more hardball." That's what 73-year-old retiree Ken Carpenter told ABC News in an interview this week in which he called the last four years of the Obama administration a "disaster." "I'm definitely against Obama and everything about him," Carpenter said. "He's destroying America, so Romney's the other choice." In a state where polls show the race between Romney and Obama extremely close, Carpenter said he could not predict how Romney would ultimately fare. "There's an awful lot of liberals in this state from New York, California," he said. "They call themselves independents, but they're really not." Then-candidate Obama won Colorado by a 9-point margin over John McCain four years ago, and at a rally in Denver on Monday night, Romney told his supporters he had a "request" for them. Candy Lewis of Denver, a registered independent voter in Colorado, said "I don't believe" recent public opinion surveys that show Romney trailing Obama with women voters, in particular. "I don't like the false advertising that Obama's doing that Mitt Romney's against women and that women's rights are going to go back 50 years - not true," Lewis said. "I think that he's campaigning on fear, and that's the wrong thing to do." http://bit.ly/VkUYNU
DEMOCRATIC BACKERS STEER CASH TO CONGRESSIONAL RACES. The Wall Street Journal's Brody Mullins and Melanie Trottman report: "Big Democratic interest groups such as labor unions and environmental organizations are largely bypassing President Barack Obama's re-election and pouring millions of dollars instead into congressional races. Since June, these groups have outspent Republican super PACs by a two-to-one margin in House races, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of advertising spending. The groups are lagging financially in Senate races overall, but have outdone Republicans in some individual contests by pooling resources." http://on.wsj.com/SH8Njq
DESPITE THREATS, U.S. CUT SECURITY IN LIBYA BEFORE ATTACKS. The Daily Beast's Eli Lake reports: "In the six months leading up to the assault on the United States consulate in Benghazi, the State Department reduced the number of trained Americans guarding U.S. facilities in Libya, according to a leading House Republican investigating the Sept. 11 anniversary attacks. The reduction in U.S. security personnel increased America's reliance on local Libyan guards for the protection of its diplomats." http://bit.ly/VypYbI
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX:
-AMERICAN BRIDGE RELEASES NEW VIDEO: WHILE MITT ROMNEY WAS IN DENVER HIS HEART WAS IN GRAND CAYMAN. Democratic super PAC American Bridge is out with a new video this morning titled "I left my heart in Grand Cayman." The title is a play on a comment Romney made during last night's debate wherein he said "the place you put your money is a pretty clear indication of where your heart is." The comment was in regards to Obama's spending on green energy, but in the one minute video American Bridge turned the comments against Romney, highlighting a series of news reports that discussing Romney's swiss bank accounts and assets he keeps in the Cayman islands. WATCH: http://bit.ly/OEYscr
@samsteinhp : Obama campaign's morning after fact-checking would have worked better if it was Obama doing the fact-checking during the debate
@TheFix : When prevailing D theory is that Obama was playing rope-a-dope with Romney, you know it was a bad night for president.
with ABC's Joanna Suarez
-President Obama holds a campaign event at Sloan's Lake Park in Denver followed by an event at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
-Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan hold a rally with country music star Trace Adkins at Augusta Expoland Fairgrounds in Fishersville, Va.
-Vice President Joe Biden holds a campaign event at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Check out The Note's Futures Calendar : http://abcn.ws/ZI9gV