First debate sets tone for election season

The first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney on Wednesday night was characterized not by elaborate reform plans or stances on policies, but rather by hostile interruptions and a social media uproar over Romneys firing of PBSs classic Big Bird of Sesame Street.

The first of three debates sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates was moderated by Jim Lehrer, former news anchor for PBS NewsHour, and covered three main topics: the economy, health care and the role of government and governing.

Obama began the debate describing what his administration has accomplished in regards to the economy and what he believes needs to happen.

In the past five months weve seen 5 million jobs in the private sector created. The auto industry has come roaring back, Obama said. America does best when the middle class does best.

Romney described his own plan for the economy as a five-step process, including making the U.S. energy independent, opening up trade, especially with Latin America, educating people with skills they need to succeed, balancing the U.S. budget and championing small business.

The topics were arranged in 15-minute segments with two minute answer periods as well as open time for rebuttals from each candidate, but the debate quickly grew disorganized as each speaker interrupted the other along with cutting Lehrer off throughout the debate.

I had five seconds left before you interrupted me, Obama said to Lehrer, when Lehrer tried to move talk along at one point in the night.

While the debate hovered around the broad topic of the economy, focusing on jobs and taxes, Romney made a comment that would set the tone of the rest of the debate.

On federal funding, Romney said he would cancel funding to the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS).

I love PBS, I like Big Bird and I like you too, Romney said to Lehrer.

The social media craze that followed, including the explosion in popularity of the Twitter account @FiredBigBird, which had 20,954 followers at the time of print, could have been a fatal mistake for Romney, but many believe he handled the debate successfully because of how he handled the topic of jobs and clearly laid out his plans, many details of which have been left out thus far in his campaign.

My expectations going into this debate were that Romney would explain in simple terms what his plans are, Luis Laraguente, a senior majoring political science, said.

Most students viewing the debate at watch parties were interested in the topic of job creation and education the latter of which was covered, but not elaborated on late in the debate.

This whole debate correlated to students through jobs. Will we have a job when we graduate? Will we make enough to succeed? Eric Blake. a senior majoring in political science and host of Erics America on Bulls Radio. Mitt Romney is the candidate to answer these questions.

Both candidates also covered the issue of health care and the main role each would play as president. Obama, drawing from anecdotes including those of his own grandmothers dependency on Medicare and Social Security, focused on the plights of the American people.

Folks like my grandmother are at the mercy of the private insurance sector precisely at the time they most need affordable healthcare, Obama said. Millions of families around the country worry about going bankrupt if they get sick.

Obama also focused on his Race to the Top initiative, which gave funding to 46 states to initiate education reform a program he mentioned three times during the debate.

I was very pleased with the debate. I think Obama did an excellent job of representing his position, Colton Canton, a junior majoring in political science and creative writing and president of USF College Democrats, said.

Canton also said he believed that Obama did a good job of calling Romney out on his perceived misrepresentations.

I think Mitt Romney was somewhat put on the defensive, Canton said. The president said it best. (Romneys) policies fly in the face of common sense.

Both candidates focused on how they could reduce the U.S. deficit and create jobs with or without raising taxes in an economy still burdened by the recession.

Republicans and democrats both love America, but we need leadership in Washington, Romney said. I am concerned about the direction America has been taking the last few years.

With 32 days until the election, the next debates will continue to set the agenda for the candidates campaigns and presidencies.

I am really excited about the next debates, Canton said. I think both candidates largely set the themes and points that their campaigns have been communicating.

Additional reporting by Roberto Roldan

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