Below is a round up of media reactions.
Gary Younge of the Guardian said that Obama “appeared nervous, distracted and unprepared. After four years in the Oval Office, he’d lost his voice. Gone was the charisma, the optimism and the eloquence. Defensive, halting and verbose – he looked tired and that made his presidency look tired. Both campaigns set low expectations, but only Obama met them. If you were watching without knowing who was the president, you wouldn’t have guessed it was him.”
On Romney, Younge writes that he “made his points forcefully, repeatedly and in an animated fashion.
“He painted Obama as a big government liberal seeking to impose regulations on businesses and have experts decide healthcare needs rather than doctors and patients. Whether those accusations were true or not took second place to whether they stuck or not. They did.”
Despite a performance many media outlets judged a success, Younge concludes that Romney is still “a long way behind almost everywhere he needs to be.
“He won himself time and the chance for a hearing. Had he failed it would have been game over. For now he is still in the game.”
Amol Rajan at the Independent agreed: “Mitt Romney is right back in this race”.
But is success in the first debate enough?
“In and of itself, last night certainly won’t win Mitt Romney the presidency. But campaigns are about momentum, and at the very least Obama’s has been halted. In the next two debates, he needs to come out fighting, and show not just the mastery of detail that he was at pains to convey last night, but the passion and zeal and charisma that won him 2008.”
Jon Swaine, who was covering the debate for The Telegraph writes: “The debate was unusually sober and substantive, frequently resembling a dispute between the university law professor and management consultant that Mr Obama and Mr Romney were in their previous careers.
“Its moderator, Jim Lehrer, repeatedly struggled to keep the candidates under control and was at several points steamrolled by Mr Romney while telling the Republican candidate that his time was up. At one stage, Mr Obama ignored a similar instruction, chiding Lehrer for the interruption.
“Delivering the night’s only pre-prepared ‘zinger’ line, as he rejected Mr Obama’s allegations about his plans for higher education, Mr Romney said: ‘Mr President, you’re entitled to your own airplane and your own house, but not your own facts.’”
Across the Atlantic, views were similar. Andrew Rosenthal at the New York Times observed that despite Romney’s steady accumulation of factual inaccuracies, he still “looked and sounded presidential.” While “President Obama failed to step in and puncture that image.”
Rosenthal noted the frequency with which Obama missed opportunities. “When the president discussed his opponent’s tax plan, he sounded lost and detached. He should have put a direct and simple question to Mr. Romney: “Please name the deductions and exemptions you plan to eliminate in order to cut taxes without increasing the deficit. Just four or five would be nice.”
“The president also never mentioned Mr Romney’s 47 percent speech–which just a week ago seemed to change the dynamic of the race–or his tax returns, or his tenure at Bain Capital.”
“Not only did he win, he literally wiped the floor with Obama” thought Alexandra Petri of The Washington Post.
“Obama had the demeanor of someone who did not realize that the quiz was today. You got the sense that he was hoping someone would leap out from behind the set and announce that this was just an elaborate anniversary prank set up by Michelle. “Wasn’t that awkward!” he would say afterward. “I thought I was actually going to have to debate that absurd person.”
“Unfortunately, no such reprieve came. Obama had to take part, and by the time he realized this, it was nearly half over. When he started trying to hammer Romney for a lack of specific plans, too much time had passed, and Romney could smoothly reply that he was only eschewing specifics in order that he might more closely resemble Ronald Reagan.”
Greg Sargent, also of the Washington Post, agreed that it was a good debate for Romney and one filled with missed opportunities from Obama. It was as if, Sargent argues, Obama was just too slow on the uptake.
“When invoking Romney’s suggestion that kids should borrow money from their parents to pay for college, he was far too polite and discursive and didn’t make the moment stick. His defense of Obamacare took too long to make the point that Romney, in repealing the law, would take insurance away from millions without replacing it with anything,” Sargent writes.
Sargent saw hope in Obama’s efforts to expose Romney’s lack of detail and precision on many issues, and felt Obama had “just about” won the argument over the deficit and taxes. The question though, Sargent says, “is whether Romney accomplished enough.”
“Romney won, but in so doing, he confirmed yet again that his campaign thinks he can win the election without presenting any credible policy agenda of his own. The holes in his tax plan were exposed once again, which will likely draw more media scrutiny in the days ahead. Romney repeated the bullet points from his five point plan, but that plan is laughably vague on how it would help the middle class, and he recited the same vague language about it that has already been shown to test poorly, almost certainly because of its lack of specificity.”
“One word of advice for Barack Obama before his next debate: Caffeine”, Roger Simon of Politico sarcastically remarked.
“Obama often sounded like he was defending a doctoral dissertation. His thoughts seemed to range from lengthy to endless. Mr President, shorter is better. Really. We are a society with a short attention span.
“Complex problems do not require complex answers. Not on TV, they don’t. Once a candidate is safely elected, he can be as long-winded as he wants in the White House and even before Congress. But he has to get elected. And it’s a little early for Obama to fall on the ball. Which is where he seemed to spend most of the evening Wednesday.
“And, by so doing, he let Romney get away with a lot.”