POSTED: Thursday, October 4, 2012 - 12:41pm
UPDATED: Thursday, October 4, 2012 - 12:54pm
Denver, Colorado — The split screen told the story -- when Mitt Romney was speaking, President Barack Obama was looking down; when Obama was speaking, Romney was looking at the president.
"It has killed jobs," Romney said during Wednesday's debate about the politically charged health care law pushed by Obama. "Obamacare, the Congressional Budget Office has said, will cost $2,500 a year more than traditional insurance."
Romney looked at the crowd, moderator Jim Lehrer and even Obama during the exchange.
Obama, on the other hand, looked down, shook his head and sporadically looked at his Republican adversary.
The directness in that one exchange -- which was one of many during the debate -- showed Romney was not afraid to go toe-to-toe with Obama. The former Massachusetts governor came across as direct and combative.
Obama seemed removed and didn't return fire as Romney pulled no punches.
Facebook users, who rated the performance using the CNN grading application, described Obama as "meek" and "unprepared." A number of users who graded the president poorly mentioned that he was regularly looking down.
"I think they had the wrong strategy," former Obama adviser Van Jones said of his boss' campaign. "I think he thought that he was going to go and have a conversation with the American people. I think he took Romney too lightly. I think he did not expect Romney to be able to throw that kind of heat."
"Romney was able to out Obama Obama on the connection piece, on the authenticity piece, on being able to tell the story," said Jones.
During the 2008 presidential debates against Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Obama regularly looked into the camera when he spoke and countered the attacks of his Republican challenger. That debate style directly contrasted the way Obama appeared on Wednesday in Denver.
At one point, Romney directly told viewers that "virtually everything he [President Obama] just said about my tax plan is inaccurate."
"So if the tax plan he described were a tax plan I was asked to support, I'd say absolutely not," Romney said. "I'm not looking for a $5 trillion tax cut. What I've said is, I won't put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit."
Again, as Romney was answering, Obama seemed to be taking notes. Following Romney's statement, Obama shot back, accusing Romney of tossing out his plan before the debate.
"Well, for 18 months he's been running on this tax plan. And now, five weeks before the election, he's saying that his big, bold idea is 'Nevermind.'
Critics sometimes accuse the president of being too professorial and possibly too cool. Following the debate, even supporters issued that critique.
"I just got the sense that the president would have preferred to be somewhere else," said James Carville, a CNN contributor and former adviser to President Bill Clinton. "President Obama came there, he wanted to have a conversation. Takes two people to have a conversation. Mitt Romney came there with a chainsaw."
Carville continued with some of the same directness exhibited by Romney on Wednesday: "The president didn't bring his 'A' game tonight."
And viewers agreed.
Sixty-seven percent of registered voters who watched the debate said Romney won, while 25% said Obama came out on top, according to a CNN/ORC International Poll.
"The president just didn't seem like he wanted to debate Romney," said CNN's Chief National Correspondent John King. "If he came in there thinking, 'I am ahead therefore I am going to stay above the fray,' that is a strategic mistake because he is not that far ahead."