In a low-key and often wonkish presidential debate on Wednesday, Mitt Romney distanced himself from his own plans, but received only intermittent push-back from a subdued President Obama.
Obama started out strong at the Denver debate, nipping at Mitt Romney for the Republican's tax plan, which would reportedly cut $5 trillion in tax revenue and add $2 trillion in military spending. Obama insisted the move would pulverize middle-class families or balloon the deficit.
"How we pay for that, reduce the deficit and make the investments that we need to make without dumping those costs on to middle-class Americans, I think is one of the central questions of the campaign," the president said.
Romney, however, insisted that he doesn't have a $5 trillion tax cut in his plan, and that he won't reduce the taxes paid by the wealthiest Americans. On the stump, Romney has pushed to lower everyone's tax rates by 20%, an amount independent groups say will reduce federal revenue by $5 trillion over the next decade.
Obama charged that for the past year-and-half, his opponent has been running on such a tax plan and now his "big, bold idea is 'never mind.'"
On Medicare, Obama noted that although Romney's plan to turn Medicare into a voucher system might not affect current seniors, it would affect those who'll soon be eligible for the program. "If you're 54 or 55, you might want to listen because this might affect you," he said.
Obama argued that Romney has yet to lay out concrete plans on taxes, healthcare and Wall Street reform. "And at some point I think the American people have to ask themselves is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans to replace secret because they're too good?"
While there was no knockout moment, the tables seemed to turn in the GOPer's favor when Romney insisted the president's policies have stunted job growth and a second term in the White House for Obama would kill more jobs. He ripped Obama's plan to repeal tax cuts for small businesses and referenced Vice President Joe Biden's gaffe this week, saying "Under the president's policies, middle-income Americans have been buried."
Romney, appearing poised and confident, argued that health insurance costs have gone up, gas prices have doubled, costs of food have skyrocketed and the middle class has been crushed under Obama.
"You raised taxes and you killed jobs," Romney declared.
Throughout most of the evening, Romney was the clear aggressor, seizing control of the debate at several moments and interrupting moderator Jim Lehrer, while the president often seemed somewhat listless as he looked down at his podium.
Richard Wolffe, executive editor of msnbc.com, said the cards fell in Romney's favor, but that in the end, Romney may not have achieved everything he needed to.
"I think the GOP is going to be delighted with Romney because it's all small bore. They want him to rough up the President and he did. Sadly for the GOP, he missed the real target: telling voters what he really stands for. Especially about jobs," Wolffe wrote on msnbc.com. Romney's big push comes as polls show him behind in several battleground states.