DENVER — An energetic Mitt Romney launched a series of attacks against President Barack Obama here Wednesday night, calling into question the president's record on the economy, health care and the deficit and arguing that he would take the country in a fundamentally different direction.
Obama sought to parry Romney's criticisms, charging that his rival favors a top-down approach to the economy that would reward the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the middle class and that the details of Romney's proposals don't add up. But he found himself on the defensive repeatedly during their first debate, held on the campus of the University of Denver.
Romney came into the 90-minute debate after several difficult weeks but appeared rejuvenated by the opportunity to take his case directly to Obama and the American people. He was both well prepared and aggressive as he hammered the president. The contrast with Obama was striking, as the president appeared less energetic even as he rebutted some of the toughest of Romney's attacks.
The debate is likely to give Romney what he needed most, which is a fresh look from voters_at least those still undecided or open to changing their minds_and will change the conversation about the campaign, which for the past two weeks has been tilted in the president's favor. Romney now faces the challenge of trying to build on his performance and keep the president on the defensive in the days ahead.
Romney offered conservative policies throughout the evening but he often sounded like a more moderate candidate than he often does in campaign appearances. He is likely to face a challenge from Obama and the Democrats in the days to come about the contrast in tone and posture on display during the night.
But Republicans of all stripes were immediately cheered by the aggressiveness they saw in Romney Wednesday night and took it as a sign that his campaign was ready to wage a fierce battle between now and Nov. 6.