Many people, including some of the president's advisors, are saying Romney came across as more polished.
There was a lot of substance to this first debate as the candidates delved into the tax code, government spending and job creation. The debate, moderated by PBS newsman Jim Lehrer, was divided into 15-minute segments.
Challenger Romney held his own with the president. Experts think the former governor of Massachusetts helped himself with his performance. The two candidates faced off in front of a crowd of close to 1,000.
The president attacked Romney for proposing a tax plan that will add to the deficit. Romney fired back that the president had his plan all wrong.
As expected, health care also got a lot of attention. Romney attacked the Affordable Health Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," for keeping businesses from hiring. The president defended the plan and pointed out repealing it would end up costing seniors more.
The fight over Social Security and Medicare, both expected to play a large role during the debate, did not disappoint. Romney and Mr. Obama did agree on the need for efficiency in the programs, but disagreed on the respective directions. Romney stressed his preference for sending Medicare money to individual states. Mr. Obama pointed out that Medicare has lower administrative care costs than private insurers, and was not driven by a profit motive.
Education, the role of government and legislative paralysis were also covered. Mr. Obama said "budgets reflect choices" and said under Romney and Ryan, if their plan was extrapolated, the education budget would be cut by 20 percent. Romney noted the Massachusetts education ranking of No. 1 in the nation. He said he wanted to "grade" schools and wanted federal funds to "follow the child" and promoted school choice.
Both candidates came into the debate with distinct missions, and largely achieved them: Romney needed to project leadership and dispel the image of an out-of-touch elitist. Mr. Obama needed to avoid making any major mistakes and press the case that he still has more to offer.
Here are results from an exclusive ABC News poll conducted by Survey USA:
Who won the debate?
- 48 percent - Romney
- 34 percent - Obama
- 18 percent - No clear winner
Which candidate do you trust more on the economy?
- 47 percent - Romney
- 46 percent - Obama
- 6 percent - Not sure
Meantime, it may be the last thing you'd think you'd hear at a presidential debate - a candidate talking about Big Bird. But that's just what happened when Romney talked about stopping the federal subsidy to PBS.
"I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you too," Romney said, addressing Lehrer. "But I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for us."
After that comment, Twitter exploded with reaction. Twitter data shows the words "Big Bird" were tweeted 17,000 times per minute. It was also the fourth highest-rising search term on Google.
Romney and Obama debate again Oct. 16 in a town hall-style format at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., and their final faceoff, on foreign affairs, is Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. Vice President Joe Biden and GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan have their lone debate on Oct. 11 in Danville, Ky.
Thursday, both candidates are heading back into swing states. Romney is in Virginia, and the president has events planned in Colorado and Wisconsin.