President Barack Obama, right and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney chat following the first presidential debate at the University of Denver. Observers called the debate for Romney, giving fresh hopes to his presidential campaign. David Goldman/AP
US 2012

Observers give Romney the victory in first US presidential debate

Straw polls show two-thirds of people saying Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama – the highest post-debate record ever.

MITT ROMNEY has breathed new life into his campaign for the US presidency with a robust performance in the first debate against the incumbent Barack Obama.

Romney was deemed by CNN viewers to have easily won the debate held in Colorado – with 67 per cent of viewers saying the Republican candidate had come out on top, compared to a mere 25 per cent offering the win to the Democrats’ Obama.

CNN polling director Keating Holland noted that this was by far the most one-sided verdict given by any post-debate crowd since the network began polling in 1984. No candidate had ever been awarded the victory by more than 60 per cent of voters before.

35 per cent of those watching said they were now more likely to vote for Romney after his strong showing, compared to 18 per cent for Obama. The other 47 per cent of viewers said, however, that the debate would not influence their vote.

The boost for Romney could come at a welcome time – with only a month to go until polling day, the latest figures from pollster Gallup showed Obama holding a four-point lead over Romney, 49 to 45. Gallup’s numbers are compiled based on an average of the previous seven daily polls.

Analysis will be keen to see how the debate influences those numbers – particularly in key swing states like Florida, Ohio and North Carolina. The former pair are both leaning toward Obama, while North Carolina polls are tied. Romney will hope to take all three if he is to unseat the president.

Romney wasted no time in laying into Obama’s record in his four years in office, insisting that Obama’s “status quo” economic policies were “not going to cut it” – while also accosting the president for allegedly manipulating facts about his proposals for education funding.

The president responded with accusations of his own, however.

“At some point the American people have to ask themselves: Is the reason Governor Romney is keeping all these plans secret, is it because they’re going to be too good? Because middle class families benefit too much? No.”

There were also the typical disputes about each candidates’ own economic platforms, with both candidates claiming the other had misrepresented their fiscal policies.

US media noted that the exchanges were less abrasive than in previous electoral debates, however – with the discussion occasionally verging into dense policy discussions that were difficult for moderator Jim Lehrer to referee.

While observers were surprised at Obama’s failure to attack Romney’s infamous “47 per cent” remark – where the Republican appeared to write off his responsibility to almost half of US voters – Romney also opted against attacking Obama for his “you didn’t build that” statement which had been interpreted by Republicans as an attack on the initiative of everyday Americans.

Despite appearing to speak for longer than his challenger, however, Obama did not appear to land any killer punch – and will hope to put more of a dent in Romney’s challenge in the remaining two debates, held in two weeks’ time in New York and in three weeks’ time in Florida.

The two men’s running mates, Democratic vice-president Joe Biden and the Republican congressman Paul Ryan, will square off next Thursday in Kentucky.

Read: A full transcript of last night’s debate (New York Times)

Watch: Top 5 moments from US presidential debates

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