By nearly all accounts, Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney scored a win last week in the first presidential debate at the University of Denver.
From the get-go Romney was on the attack, aggressive as he laid out his plan to put the U.S. economy on the path to recovery, cut taxes, create jobs and help the middle class, as well as differentiate between his vision for America's future and that of President Obama.
An estimated 67.2 million people watched the first presidential debate, Nielsen reported. Viewership for the Obama-Romney tilt was up 28 percent compared to the first presidential debate in 2008 between then Senator Obama and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
In the run-up to Wednesday, pundits declared it was one of the most important events in the race for the White House and the chance for Romney to woo undecided and fence-sitting voters.
Republicans and GOP operatives were heady on Thursday.
"Last night, Obama was unable to defend his failed policies and broken promises," Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus posted on his Twitter account.
"Gov @MittRomney knocked it out of the park last night," another Priebus post read.
Romney challenged Obama on his record on the economy, healthcare and the deficit, arguing he would take the country down a different path to restore its economy and stature. Obama tried to counter Romney's criticisms -- charging the former Massachusetts governor favors a top-down economic approach and chiding him for not fleshing out particulars of his plan for tax reform and deficit reduction, but the president found himself playing defense rather than offense.
Romney came to play, as one post-debate analyst put it, while Obama looked like he wanted to be elsewhere.
The debate was a great antidote to a few lousy weeks for the Romney campaign. Weeks in which a secretly taped video of Romney at a private fundraiser said 47 percent of Americans don't pay taxes, refuse to accept responsibility and see themselves as victims. Weeks during which he saw polling numbers dip in crucial swing states.
"Romney played offense throughout the debate, and usually effectively," political commentator Steven Schier, a political science professor at Carleton College in Minnesota, said. "He essentially took the fight to the president and seemed to enjoy doing it, but in a respectful way."
Romney's best moments, Schier said, "were when he framed the deficit as a moral issue and explained his approach to governing with three explicit references to the Constitution."
Looking ahead to the election less than a month away and the two remaining debates, Romney must do more of what he did Wednesday, the commentator said.
"His performance was very good and he needs to repeat his command of facts, arguments and demeanor in future debates," Schier said.
Going into the first face-off, Romney had to convince the electorate he was presidential, which he accomplished when looking at post-debate snap polls, Schier said.
The challenge going forward is to try to build on his performance, keep Obama off-balance and keep trying to underscore he is, indeed, the right person to lead the country for at least the next four years.
"It is now up the Romney campaign to reinforce that impression," he said.
Congressional Republicans gushed over Romney's performance and the excitement it breathed into his campaign and down-ticket races, Politico said.
"It gives Mitt Romney the opportunity now to have more key people, undecided voters, listen to what he's saying," said Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who stood in for Obama during Romney's debate prep work.
Portman posted on his Twitter page that Romney delivered.
"Strong performance tonight by @MittRomney. Voters are looking for leadership, policies & record to create jobs."
"He used this [debate] to show the American public that he's got a plan, that he can articulate the specifics of the plan and that he has the confidence in himself and can build confidence with the American people to lead the country," Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., told Politico.
As many as 25 percent of voters indicated they could be swayed to change their vote, so the 2012 debates are important, Carleton's Schier said.
"This is particularly the case because there is widespread dissatisfaction with national conditions and the country's direction," he said. "That discontent creates voter volatility in which debates can matter a lot."
The second debate is Oct. 16 at Hofstra University near New York. It will be moderated by CNN "State of the Union" host Candy Crowley.
Last week's debate was a turning point for Romney, "because it was a big contrast to the negative media coverage he received throughout most of September," Schier said. "Whether his campaign can capitalize on this remains to be seen."
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