Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

Mitt wins first debate, but leaves himself exposed on Medicare vouchers

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DENVER, Colo.-- Mitt Romney prevailed over President Barack Obama in their first debate on Wednesday -- with Obama not able to present a forceful defense of his tenure in office or why he deserved a second term.

Romney put Obama off his game.

Romney won -- but did not turn the contest "upside down" as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie predicted last Sunday. He beat Obama by a few points, not a knockout.

The best stomach punch from Romney: That Obama had misplaced priorities his first years in office and put all his efforts into getting Obamacare passed -- instead of jobs.

Obama never delivered a strong summary of what he did for job creation. He had a story to tell. He never told it.

Obama -- who had been advised he had to boil down complex issues -- rambled despite the warnings of his coaches. And he left on the table -- did not use -- anything about Romney not caring about 47 percent of the nation -- the stuff from that secret videotape.


Romney's team was surprised at the omission. Also noteworthy for what did not come up: Anything about Romney's tenure at Bain Capital.

"The president was either not prepared or meandered," Romney senior adviser Ron Kauffman told me after the debate.

And Obama could not find a way to shut down Romney after Romney, incorrectly, said Obama wants to cut $716 billion from Medicare -- when in fact what is at issue is future payments to providers, not patients.

While Romney outflanked Obama by being able to be more crisp and clear in explaining his vision for America, he exposed himself to backlash from senior voters by stating very clearly that he wants to turn Medicare into a voucher system, for future, not current, receipients.

Romney was right on this when it comes to Medicare: "The other thing we have to do to save Medicare, we have to have the benefits high for those that are low-income, but for higher-income people, we're going to have to lower some of the benefits."

But this is toxic to current seniors -- who may not be hearing Romney saying that these changes would not impact them.

Romney never offered up his long-awaited specifics on what programs he would cut to reduce government spending -- except Obamacare and PBS.

When Obama had the stuff, he delivered. On corporate welfare he said succinctly, "Does anyone think ExxonMobil needs more money?"

Obama has learned painfully that he was elected president, not king, in 2008 and all his optimism about working with Congress --creating a post-partisan era -- never happened.

When the rivals were asked about how they would break Washington gridlock by moderator Jim Lehrer, who was way too passive for my tastes, bringing up broad topics, not questions, Obama -- who has been through that ringer -- did a total takedown of Romney.

After Romney said he would get Democrats and Republicans to work together -- he would meet with the congressional leaders right away -- Obama delivered a big dose of reality to Romney, who has pledged to repeal Obamacare from Day One.

Said Obama, "Well, first of all, I think Governor Romney's going to have a busy first day, because he's also going to repeal 'Obamacare,' which will not be very popular among Democrats as you're sitting down with them."

One debate down, two to go.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on October 3, 2012 10:53 PM.

#Debate Denver: DNC's Wasserman Schultz on what Obama has to worry about was the previous entry in this blog.

Obama in Chicago on election night is the next entry in this blog.

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