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US President Barack Obama (R) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) participate in the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012, moderated by Jim Lehrer (C) of the PBS NewsHour. — Photo by AFP

WASHINGTON: Republican candidate Mitt Romney scored an easy victory over President Barack Obama in the first presidential debate on Wednesday night, getting a clear edge over his Democratic rival in post-debate polls.

For 90 minutes, the two candidates clashed over who has a better plan to revive the sluggish US economy. Throughout the debate, both strived to win over the middle-class voters who are likely to play a decisive role in the Nov 4 election.

President Obama accused Mr Romney of wanting to “double down on the top-down policies” of the Bush administration that led to the financial crisis.

Mr Romney accused Mr Obama of pushing “trickle-down government”, and of wanting to burden the nation with new taxes which would strangulate small businesses and cause more unemployment.

This was one of the three presidential debates set for October and it was also Mr Romney’s first face-to-face encounter with Mr Obama. Both candidates focused on policy details and avoided personal attacks.

They disagreed sharply over tax cuts, Mr Obama’s health care plan, less or more governance, America’s debt, federal deficit and above all over who is better suited to serve America.

The debate was tense at times, with the candidates often cutting off the moderator, PBS’s Jim Lehrer. Mr Romney had a more aggressive tone on stage while Mr Obama tried to look presidential, letting off chances to attack his rival.

Both candidates came armed with studies and statistics to bolster their claims.

CBS News, which interviewed 523 uncommitted voters after the debate, reported that 46 per cent of them thought Mr Romney won the debate. Only 22pc said Mr Obama prevailed over him.

Fifty-six per cent said they had a better opinion of Mr Romney after the debate, 11pc had a worse opinion and 32pc reported their opinion was unchanged.

Mr Romney’s support increased among uncommitted voters, from 22pc before the debate to 34pc after, with most of the change coming from the 50pc who were totally undecided before the debate.

Mr Obama’s support dropped two percentage points, from 25pc to 23pc.

Mr Romney improved his score on the question of “caring about your needs and problems” from 30pc before the debate, to 63pc after. Mr Obama also improved on this question, from 53pc to 69pc. CNN, which polled 430 voters, reported that 67pc thought Mr Romney won the debate, while only 25pc said they thought Mr Obama won.

Thirty-five per cent of respondents said they were more likely to vote for Mr Romney after watching the debate, 18pc for Mr Obama and 47pc said neither.

Even a Democratic firm, Democracy Corps, came up with similar results. It interviewed 45 independent voters in Denver, Colorado, where the debate was held, and concluded that 42pc of them also believed Mr Romney won the debate. Only 20pc of these voters said they believed Mr Obama won.

Thirty-eight per cent said neither candidate won. One-third said they were likely to vote for Mr Obama, compared with 31pc before the debate.

Forty-four per cent said they backed Mr Romney, up from 27pc pre-debate.

The group showed Mr Romney’s favourability went up, from 41pc before the debate, to 77pc after. Mr Obama’s favourability gained three percentage points. Mr Romney overtook Mr Obama in being seen as a strong leader, and gained points in being seen as better able to handle the economy, and having a clear vision for the country. He made no headway on looking after the middle class, or understanding issues important to voters.

Even some prominent US newspapers that favour the Democratic Party, acknowledged Mr Romney outperformed Mr Obama in the first presidential debate.—Anwar Iqbal and Masood Haider

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