The following editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star on Thursday, Oct. 4:
After hours of practice, columns of ink on what's at stake, and reams of advice to avoid looking angry, glancing at watches or even grimacing, round one in the presidential debates clearly went to GOP challenger Mitt Romney.
He was sharp, focused, animated and stylistically looked in charge. President Barack Obama mostly looked pensive, sober and disturbingly unanimated. May we suggest a can of Red Bull for the president before the next debate in two weeks? Surely, an anniversary night out without 40 million or so viewers would have been better for him.
Neither candidate broke much new ground but neither tripped, either, producing no memorable gaffes. All in all, it was a civil exchange, if a bit too meandering.
PBS veteran moderator Jim Lehrer kept himself impartial, but failed to keep the two candidates within the planned time frames. As a result, not all topics got much time.
Romney clearly exceeded largely low expectations, and Obama wasn't able to dodge the critics who accuse him of being "too professorial."
The first of the three scheduled presidential debates focused on domestic issues, covering a wide swath of ground: education, taxes, health care, jobs and partisanship. Obama stuck with his "top down economic policies" slam at Romney, while Romney rebutted with a "trickle down government" rap on Obama.
In our scoring:
Misses: Surprisingly, Obama let the night pass without taking a swipe at Romney's slam at the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay taxes. And he didn't bring up Bain Capital's history of shipping jobs overseas and eliminating jobs.
He didn't successfully zero in on Romney's continued lack of specifics on how he will make the elimination of unnamed deductions and loopholes recoup enough revenue to cover the tax cuts he proposes. This is a serious question that needs answers. Earlier in the week Romney offered a possible answer on a Colorado radio show: He might cap the total amount of deductions a taxpayer may submit. It's a reasonable answer, but not one offered in the debate.
Both candidates offered a litany of "stories" of everyday people they meet on the campaign trail to illustrate their points. At this point, it strikes us that this is a much over-used prop for debaters. Is there no new tactic for making a point?
Romney's misses were his lack of specifics, beyond grand promises of being a job creator. At times, he pushed his way into aggressive territory, a move that can turn off voters.
Romney, not known for cracking a good joke, did manage to add a little humor when he suggested he needed a new accountant as part of his rebuke to the Obama charge that companies moving jobs overseas reap tax benefits.
Obama was strong on his grandmother's story of earning her own way to Medicare and Social Security benefits. And he effectively picked up on the "it's the math, arithmetic" line first offered by former President Bill Clinton in defending his tax plan to protect the middle class and ask the wealthy to pay more.
The next presidential debate in two weeks is a town hall forum with uncommitted citizens asking questions. Round two may play better to Obama's strengths.