By Kathy Linton
— TV viewers across the nation Wednesday night saw what most are calling an “upset victory” in the first of three presidential debates.
President Barack Obama and challenger GOP nominee Gov. Mitt Romney debated at the Ritchie Center on the campus of the University of Denver. The 90-minute debate was moderated by Jim Lehrer of the “PBS NewsHour.”
Going into the debate, polls showed the candidates to be fairly tied in the race for the White House. A National Journal poll showed both Romney and Obama tied at 47 percent with prospective voters and a Rasmussen Reports poll showed Romney at 47 percent and Obama at 48 percent.
While new polling results on the actual race had not been released as of press time, a CNN poll released late Wednesday night showed that 67 percent of registered voters who watched the debate said Romney had won the debate, while 25 percent said Obama had won.
Most everyone agrees that the debate brought a twist to the race, and clearly showed the different roads each man would take as president.
The biggest clashes came in discussions of the health care reform act, which Obama defended and Romney referred to as “an unnecessary and unwanted government takeover of health care,” and the Dodd-Frank Act, which Obama again defended and Romney said was an overreach of government interference in business.
Romney did say that there were some measures in both the health care and business acts that he would retain in his own proposals.
Obama said Romney’s proposals were too vague and said, “At some point, the American people have to ask themselves if the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans secret is because they’re too good.”
Romney explained many of his proposals during the debate and said, if elected, he planned to work with both Republicans and Democrats and that he realizes that all of his plans will not go through exactly as he’d like to see them. He said the only way to get things done is to compromise.
When discussing education, Obama at one point accused Romney of not caring about teachers or education. Romney chuckled at the accusation and responded that Massachusetts, which he had governed, was rated the number one state in education.
Another point of contention was in funding for the military. Romney said it is paramount that America retain a strong military and Obama said the military budget must be cut as a matter of “simple math.”
Not surprisingly, Hendricks County’s political leaders have very different takes on the outcome of the debate.
“I did watch the whole debate,” Hendricks County Democrat chair Charlotte Martin said. “I felt like we had wanted Obama to explain what he has done in his four years and what he will do in the next four. I felt he did a very good job of explaining that to the American people.”
Martin said Democrats are “very proud” of what the president has accomplished.
“We know there are many more things he has to do in his next term, if the American people will just follow along and allow him to,” she said. “It took eight years to get to this point and it might take another eight to get us out of it. But I do feel that the housing problem is improving, the economy is picking up, Wall Street and the banking industry are back on track.
“The other thing that I think, and it did not come out last night, is that Obama is much more prepared for our foreign policy than Romney will be. I’m sure that that will be in the next debate. He and Hillary Clinton are much more prepared and are doing a good job of working with our foreign friends, so hopefully we can have more peace with the other countries than we have had.”
Martin said she has heard Romney being praised for his performance in the debate, but she sees it differently.
“I know a lot of people say that Romney came on very strong and that the president was probably not as forceful,” she said. “He was not trying to overpower Mitt Romney — he was trying to give the facts. I don’t feel like he needed to press the points any more than what he did. I think all of his numbers and his statements speak for themselves. With the health care measures, the military ... we did see what he has done and will do. Our country needs to move in an upward direction, not down. What we need to do is go forward and not go backwards.”
Martin said in the next debates she’d like to see more discussion on health care and education.
“I’m really worried about Mitt Romney’s stance on women,” she said. “My other issue is, of course, education. I’m a retired teacher after 31 years in Georgia. Education is very important. I see the Republicans going toward vouchers, charter schools, and that is the wrong direction for America to take in education.”
Todd Singer, chairman of the Hendricks County Libertarian party, said he didn’t watch the debate.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t, so I can’t comment with anything that isn’t secondhand,” he said. “Part of the reason I didn’t watch is that Gary Johnson (the Libertarian candidate for president) wasn’t included. I thought he should have been included.”
Hendricks County Republican Party Chairman Mike O’Brien deemed the debate a success.
“Romney was the clear winner,” O’Brien said. “You can flip open the opinion page of any newspaper in the country to confirm it.
“If you’re a voter who’s been on the fence about Romney’s chances in this race, you couldn’t help but think last night, ‘where has this Mitt Romney been?’ He was poised, confident, and presented a clear and detailed alternative to the current regime.
“The president, having his record laid out in front of him, was uncharacteristically rattled and had no response. He spent most of his time ignoring the past four years and dismissed our current problems as those he inherited and was hopelessly unable to change. Voters aren’t buying it.”
Obama and Romney are scheduled to debate again Oct. 16 in New York and Oct. 22 in Florida. Vice President Joe Biden and Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, are scheduled to debate Oct. 11 in Kentucky.