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Mitt Romney barrels out of first debate on offense

By Nancy Benac

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Oct. 4 2012 10:30 a.m. MDT

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney talk at the end of the first presidential debate in Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

DENVER — Little more than a month from Election Day, Republican Mitt Romney is barreling out of the first presidential debate energized by a solid performance that telegraphed his determination to take it to President Barack Obama with gusto. The president, intent on keeping his momentum from stalling, is warning that his GOP rival's policy prescriptions for a fragile economy are more fantasy than reality.

Standing toe-to-toe with the president for the first time in the campaign, Romney held his own and more at a time when there already were signs that the race is tightening in some of the battleground states where Obama has enjoyed an advantage. Obama kept his cool and signaled that he won't let up on his message that Romney's plans on taxes, health care, the deficit and more just don't add up.

"It's fun," Romney declared well into Wednesday night's 90-minute faceoff, clearly relishing the back-and-forth.

"It's arithmetic," said Obama, hammering at Romney's conspicuous lack of details with far less enthusiasm.

After a few days of relative calm as the candidates prepared for the first of their three debates, the campaign now bursts out of Colorado in all directions Thursday, with an itinerary that touches down in some of the most hotly contested battleground states in the coming days: Obama campaigns in Colorado and Wisconsin, then on to Virginia and Ohio. Romney and running mate Paul Ryan are off to Virginia, then Romney spends more time in Virginia before moving on to Florida. Vice President Joe Biden is bound for Iowa.

But before leaving Colorado, Romney brought in some more campaign cash to fund the final push. He went to a mansion located on the Cherry Hills Country Club south of Denver, where a Bentley and other luxury cars were lined up for a private breakfast with donors who contributed at least $50,000. Their money will help fund Romney's current advertising gap in the final weeks, putting out messages like the ad his campaign revealed Thursday in which the candidate wore an open-collar shirt on a factory floor and outlined his job creation plan.

With a 13-day break before their next debate, Obama and Romney have time to hone their arguments while their campaigns continue to bombard the most hotly contested states with negative ads that go far beyond the more restrained jibes the candidates leveled from their respective podiums. Obama made no mention, for example, of Romney's caught-on-tape remark that he's not worried about the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes. Democratic ads, though, have been making hay with the comment.

Asked why the president didn't raise the video, Obama senior political adviser David Axelrod suggested on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that he didn't need to since it has been so widely seen and heard. "The president's belief is that's something that has been very much a part of the discussion," Axelrod said.

In next few weeks, Romney is expected to give a number of policy speeches filling in details as he tries to sharpen the contrast with Obama while answering criticism that he hasn't clearly outlined his plans. The Republican challenger begins with a foreign policy speech in Virginia on Monday. Subsequent speeches are expected to focus on his plans for job creation, debt and spending.

Romney has promised to balance the budget in eight years to 10 years, but hasn't explained just how he'll do it. Instead, he's promised a set of principles, some of which — like increasing Pentagon spending and restoring more than $700 billion in cuts to Medicare over the coming decade — work against that goal. He also has said he will not consider tax increases.

Obama argued that it's all too much.

"At some point, I think the American people have to ask themselves, is the reason that Gov. Romney is keeping all these plans to replace secret because they're too good?" he said. "Is it because that somehow middle-class families are going to benefit too much from them? No."

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