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Obama professorial, Romney presidential at debate

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in the first debate moderated by PBS anchor Jim Lehrer. Screenshot from New York Times video.

President Barack Obama appeared professorial, while Mitt Romney appeared presidential at the first debate between the candidates last night in Denver.

Obama looked and sounded much more subdued than Romney, who spoke rapidly and interrupted moderator Jim Lehrer more often to get his points across. 

The Huffington Post's Jesse Michaels observed that Obama resembled a "befuddled professor," rambling and stuttering in some of his responses and missing chances to score quick zingers like levelling Romney's now infamous gaffe about the "47 per cent" of Americans who don't pay taxes and wouldn't vote for Romney because they would allegedly freeload off state largesse under Obama.

John Cassidy of the New Yorker called Romney "Ross Perot without the charts" for his articulate, bullet-pointed arguments for his federal spending cuts and attacks on Obamacare.

However, where Obama stumbled in style, he offered stronger substance than his rival, taking particular aim at Romney's pandering to Republican Party interests, even when they don't align with his own views or record.

"Part of leadership and governing is both saying what it is that you are for, but also being willing to say no to some things," Obama said, one of few zingers against Romney.

"And I've got to tell you, Governor Romney, when it comes to his own party during the course of this campaign, has not displayed that willingness to say no to some of the more extreme parts of his party."

The fact that Obama dove into substantive policy discussion with his rival instead of taking cheap shots was spun by his campaign manager Jim Messina in a press conference following the debate as a clear sign that Obama treats the American people "like adults."

However, Ben Adler at the left-leaning The Nation asked

"But what makes the Obama campaign so confident that the American people prefer to be treated like adults, rather than told they can have their cake and eat it too?

"Remember, this is the country that elected George W. Bush."

You be the judge: The full text of the debate can be found here

See video

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