With the first debate of the U.S. presidential campaign behind them, President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, headed back to their cross-country travels Thursday, seeking voters' support for next month's election.
Romney is holding a rally in the southeastern state of Virginia with his running mate, Congressman Paul Ryan. Obama began his day in Denver, Colorado, the site of Wednesday night's debate, and he will travel later to Wisconsin, Ryan's home state.
During the debate former Massachusetts governor Romney said Obama's policies have weakened the American economy and increased the national debt. He contended the president, if re-elected, would increase taxes and raise government spending to worsen the federal deficit.
The First 2012 Presidential Debate
The Role of Government
Source: Commission on Presidential Debates
Six, 15-minute segments
Each segment opens with a question by the moderator
Candidates have two minutes each to respond, rest of segment used for discussion
"So how do we deal with it [the deficit]?" Romney said. "Well, mathematically, there are three ways that you can cut a deficit. One, of course, is to raise taxes; number two is to cut spending, and number three is to grow the economy, because if more people work in a growing economy, they are paying taxes and you can get the job done that way. The president would prefer raising taxes, I understand. The problem with raising taxes is that it slows down the rate of growth and you can never quite get the job done."
Many observers said Romney "won" the debate, and they predicted his campaign would be re-energized by the Republican's aggressive stance against the incumbent Democratic president.
Romney said middle-income Americans have been "buried" or "crushed" under high taxes. He contends tax rates on both corporations and individuals must be reduced.
Obama countered that Romney's tax plan would favor wealthy Americans and force severe cutbacks in important domestic programs.
"This is where budgets matter, because budgets reflect choices," President Obama said. "So when Governor Romney indicates that he wants to cut taxes, and potentially benefit [high-income] folks like me and him, and to pay for it we're having to initiate significant cuts in federal support for education, that makes a difference."
The president says the first role of the federal government is to "keep the people safe," but it also should create "frameworks" in which people can succeed. He noted that, in the past, the government has helped create railroads, research institutions and educational institutions.
The two men also sparred about the health-care reform law Obama pushed through Congress. Romney once again pledged that he would repeal the law, commonly known as "Obamacare," if he were elected. He criticized the president for focusing on health care rather than the economy during Obama's first years in office.
"There was a survey done of small businesses across the country that [asked], 'What has been the effect of Obamacare on your hiring plans?' And three-quarters of them said it makes us less likely to hire people," said Romney. "I just don't know how the president could have come into office [in January of 2009] facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment, an economic crisis at the kitchen table, and spent his energy and passion for two years fighting for Obamacare instead of fighting for jobs for the American people."
Obama said the need to reform the U.S. health-care system was and is a key issue for all Americans - business owners and individuals.
"Well, four years ago when I was running for office I was traveling around and having those same conversations that Governor Romney talks about," said Obama. "And it wasn't just that small businesses were seeing costs skyrocket, and they couldn't get affordable coverage even if they wanted to provide it to their employees. It wasn't just that this was the biggest driver of our federal deficit, our overall health care costs. But it was families who were worried about going bankrupt if they got sick."
In his closing statement, the president said he wants to expand the accomplishments of his first four years in the White House. He said he will work for change just as hard in a second term as he did in his first.
Romney, who had the last word in the nationally televised debate, said re-electing the president would mean more hardship for the American middle class.
Political analysts are awaiting the result of post-debate surveys of voters' feelings about the presidential race. In recent days Obama appeared to be leading Romney, in part due to adverse public reaction to the airing of private remarks in which the Republican candidate said he would not expect support from nearly half of the American electorate that is financially dependent on government benefits.
The two candidates will meet for another debate on October 16 - a town hall-style session in which they will take questions from audience members.