Return to Transcripts main page


Who Did Best in the Debate?; Interviews with Stephanie Cutter, Marco Rubio, Rob Portman, David Axelrod

Aired October 3, 2012 - 22:30   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: They started off with a handshake and smile. They wound up with a handshake and a smile, and now they're meeting their respective families at the end of this 90-minute debate, as you can see on the screen.

The president actually spoke a little more than four minutes more than Mitt Romney spoke: 42:50 for the president, 38:32 for Mitt Romney.

This was a pretty good night for Mitt Romney. The expectations were so much higher for the president that he would come out swinging, but Mitt Romney clearly held his own, and on all of the various issues, they went back and forth.

We didn't hear some of the attack lines from the president that so many of us were expecting he would be making. I never heard him mention anything about the 47 percent, that controversial remark that Mitt Romney made in Boca Raton in a closed-door fund-raiser, didn't get into the whole history of him at Bain Capital, supposedly exporting U.S. jobs. None of the issues with tax returns, for example, came along.

They spoke about the most important issues out there: the economy, jobs, and all of what's going on.

We're going to watch a scientific poll that we're doing right now to get the reaction of what's going on, and we're going to see what that scientific poll says about who won this debate.

We also had a focus group watching of independent voters, undecided voters who were there watching what was going on, as well.

You can see that Mitt Romney is there with his family and some close associates. He seems to be pretty pleased with the performance that he did.

As I said, Candy -- let me bring in Candy Crowley. She's there at the University of Denver, watching all of this going on. He held his own with the president of the United States, and for a Republican challenger, facing an incumbent, Candy, that's pretty good.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, he -- you know, if the first test of this kind of debate is can the challenger stand toe to toe with the sitting president, with the incumbent, certainly I think Mitt Romney looked as though, seemed as though he passed that test.

It was a -- a pretty substantive debate. I don't know that we learned a lot new, those of us who have been watching this so closely, but the American people just now tuning in heard a lot.

You have to wonder a little bit whether terms like Dodd-Frank and Simpson-Bowles, whether without a little pre-knowledge about what those were, whether that went over some folks' heads. But nonetheless, the two of them, I think, gave a pretty clear indication of where they differ.

But I think you're right when you say that certainly, I think that Mitt Romney will be very pleased with this night. I think if you look at the Twitterverse right now, there's some Democrats who think that the president maybe seemed a little listless here.

But certainly, when you think about it, Mitt Romney needed to come in here and make an impression. Now we'll see in the days ahead whether he did. But certainly, I can -- I can assure you in the spin room right now, the Republicans are making the case that he did, in fact, make that impression -- Anderson.

COOPER: There's no doubt about that.

Reaction's already pouring in. We're going to be taking the temperature of a lot of different groups over the next hour and a half. Right now, we've got our analysts and reporters and CNN contributors. Let's just take a quick reading right now. John King, David Gergen.

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: If you look at your e-mails, conversations you're having with people during the debate, if you look in the Twitterverse, it is clear the Republicans are very, very, very happy at this moment, including the top team around Mitt Romney.

A lot of liberals complaining about the president's performance.

I think without a doubt, you saw that participating in so many Republican primary debates helped Mitt Romney. He was right from the beginning more comfortable debating. The president was rusty. He hasn't done this in four years. But he's the president of the United States. That's not an excuse, as James said earlier. But he was rusty as a debater.

As Wolf said, we didn't hear about Bain Capital. We didn't hear about 47 percent. The Obama campaign has spent millions and months saying Mitt Romney is this heartless guy who, if he's the president of the United States, won't care about your job or your community. We didn't hear anything like that from the president. He didn't have to be that nasty. He didn't do that.

Romney at least held his own on the big questions of the economy and the role of government. When you're the challenger and you at least hold your own with the president of the United States in a very close debate, you walk off the stage happy. COOPER: Critics of the president sometimes say he's two professorial. I assume they will be saying that about his performance tonight.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And more. A week ago, people were saying this was over. We've got a horse race. Mitt Romney, his performance was head and shoulders above anything we've ever seen him do before.

COOPER: You think this was his best debate?

GERGEN: Best debate by far. He drove this debate far more than anyone might have imagined. I think the format lent itself to one or the other candidates trying to drive the debate. He seized upon that opportunity, and he set the standard for it.

I think the president -- I didn't think he was rusty, so much as I don't think anybody has ever spoken to him like that over the last four years, and I think he found that not only surprising, but offensive in some ways. It looked like he was angry at times.

And I think overall, you have to say that -- to my surprise, I think -- I had not expected this. I think Mitt Romney won the debate.

COOPER: Gloria, there was a moment where you thought Mitt Romney was particularly strong. And I'll play that and then have you talk about it.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I just don't know how the president could have come into office, facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment, an economic crisis at the kitchen table, and spend his energy and passion for two years fighting for Obama care instead of fighting for jobs for the American people. It has killed jobs.

And the best course for health care is to do what we did in my state. Craft a plan at the state level that fits the needs of the state, and then let's focus on getting the costs down for people.


COOPER: Mitt Romney several times taking the fight to President Obama. Rarely, it seemed, did President Obama take the fight to Mitt Romney.

BORGER: No, and he could barely look at Mitt Romney, which was also interesting. He wouldn't -- he wouldn't really engage with Mitt him. Whereas Mitt Romney would take him on on every issue, including the question of health care in Massachusetts. You know, he didn't back away from it.

To me, what's interesting about Mitt Romney this evening is that he's a very different Mitt Romney from the one we all watched during the primaries. The one we watched during the primaries was combative very often, without smiling, sometimes awkward. You know, tonight I think he sort of had it all together, focused on the president, understood he was debating...

COOPER: You agree that that's his best debate performance?

BORGER: Absolutely.

COOPER: Alex Castellanos?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think Mitt Romney rose to the moment tonight, in a way, frankly, that surprised me. But I thought this was a man who benefited from a zillion primary debates, was very comfortable in his own skin in that debate tonight.

And there are -- and the president was almost condescending at first, like "I can't believe I'm having to explain all of this" in the early part of the debate. I think halfway through he caught himself, and he'd probably been remembered that somebody said I shouldn't be dismissive. And I think he started smiling, and he opened upon and was much more accessible.

COOPER: It did seem the president was trying to contextualize itself in a way that didn't necessarily lend itself to a debate. There wasn't really.

CASTELLANOS: He was very professorial, I thought tonight, getting into facts and figures and all of that as if you don't understand.

I thought Romney, of all people, who has not in this campaign been, you know, the great communicator, hasn't really told stories about what this means to people, was very effective doing that tonight.

He threw out some things we hadn't heard before: trickle-down government. Wait a minute. Now there's something to push back against, you know, how the Obama plan.

I thought there were some effective moments in that. I thought this was the best moment of Mitt Romney's campaign, just like Bill Clinton was the best moment of Barack Obama's campaign.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I had one overwhelming impression. I did everything I could not to reach it, but I had to reach it.

And it looked like Romney wanted to be there and President Obama didn't want to be there. He seemed like he was happy to be there, and today, President Obama gave me the impression that this -- the whole thing was kind a lot of trouble. I don't know -- and just -- you cannot -- you know, go ahead.

I do not know -- what we don't know is, again, we've got to do like we said, we've got to think of what the judges think. I'm not sure that the aggressiveness and everything else, how that sits overall with people, I'm not sure. But I do think that Romney had a good night. I think he wanted to be there. I think he knew he needed this, and I think Obama just gave the sense that he wasn't happy.

COOPER: I want to go to Carly Fiorina and Van Jones. I've got to go to Wolf, though, just for right now -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Hold on for a moment. I want to go right to the spin room in Denver, because they're spinning already, the supporters of the respective candidates. Jim Acosta standing by. Jessica Yellin is standing by.

First, Jim, to you. You've got Senator Rob Portman. He's the one -- he's the individual who helped Mitt Romney. He played the president of the United States in all those debate preparation sessions.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. That's right, Senator Rob Portman from Ohio is with me right now. You've been prepping Mitt Romney for the good portion of the month. But I guess, in the last several weeks, I guess. What is your assessment of the night? Did all that preparation pay off?

SEN. ROB PORTMAN (R), OHIO: Jim, it was a terrific night for Mitt Romney. He did exactly what he had to do.

For the undecided voter in Ohio or around the country, they were looking for two things: one, a discussion about, you know, the record of the last four years, and why we can't afford it for the next four. I thought he explained that well.

Most importantly, talked about his own policies, and he was able to set the record straight on some of the misleading ads that the Obama campaign has put out there about his tax plan, about his budget plan, about his health-care ideas and so on.

And so I thought he did exactly what he had to do for undecided voters. I'm really, really pleased with his performance.

ACOSTA: What -- what about that line from the president that Mitt Romney has not offered enough specifics? And if the specifics were so great, he would be revealing them. Do you think that the governor has to start revealing some specifics, at least at the next debate?

PORTMAN: Well, he's been criticized for having too many specifics also, including sometimes by President Obama and his campaign, with his 56-point plan.

But now he's got this plan, you know, boiled down to seven points, five-point plan that makes a lot of sense. And he's offering specifics, he's offering a way forward. It's a 12-million job gain, by the way.

Over the next ten years, the tax plan alone will gain 7 million jobs, because it's pro-growth. And this is analysis that's been looked at by economists right, left, and center over the years, and they have said you need to reform the tax code to grow the economy. President Obama has had four years to do it. He hasn't done it. Mitt Romney will do it starting day one. So I think he is laying out a very specific plan, and it's about jobs and about growth.

ACOSTA: Well, Senator, I think you may have earned yourself a permanent role as debate sparring partner for many elections to come. Rob Portman, Senator Portman, thanks very much for your time. We appreciate it.

Candy, back to you. As you saw throughout this evening, this was sort of -- we didn't see any takedown, body-slam moments from Mitt Romney during this debate.

But what I was told by Romney sources before this debate got going, is that preparation pays off. That's going to be the message from the Romney campaign tonight, Candy.

CROWLEY: I think you're absolutely right, Jim. For all the talk about the one-liners and zingers and this and that, did not hear anything that sort of stuck out as, boy, they were waiting to put that line out there.

I want to bring in our Jessica Yellin, who's also in the spin room. I know you're there with a top adviser in the Obama campaign. It would be -- it will be interesting to note, because Jessica, as you know, the initial impression is the president seemed listless. He seemed angry at times. It seemed like he didn't want to be there. Would love to know what the Obama campaign is saying.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, Candy. I'm here with Stephanie Cutter, who is the deputy campaign manager for the Obama campaign, and was also a staffer inside the White House. You know the president well. And, Stephanie, let me just ask you, plainly, where was the passion we see on the campaign trail from the president? Why wasn't it there tonight?

STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, you know, I think we came here with a specific purpose, and we told everybody what that purpose was, was to have a conversation with voters about his specific plans to move this country forward, and he did that tonight. And I think he scored points on his balanced deficit reduction plan and how he would do it. Holding Wall Street accountable and how he would do it. His health reform plan.

And I think that Mitt Romney, yes, he absolutely wins the preparation. And he wins the style points. But that's not what has been dogging his campaign. What has been dogging his campaign are the policies that he doubled down on tonight. You know, let's talk about his tax cut. You know, they signaled over the course of the last several days, they put out details of how they would pay for it. They didn't put out details. In fact, he backed away from it. He is not being honest with the American people. He spent a lot of time on defense on these policies. And you know what's worse? He got testy about it. He got testy about being on defense, and I think that came across to the American people. YELLIN: The president also seemed to get testy at one point when he was interrupted by Jim Lehrer, and he sort of bristled himself. So I wonder, will the president do a little bit more debate prep before the next debate, and prepare a little bit differently? Do you think he maybe didn't take this seriously enough?

CUTTER: We feel pretty good about the president's performance here tonight. Again, he wasn't speaking to the people in this room, he wasn't speaking to the pundit class, he was speaking to the people at home. And I think what people at home heard tonight is a plan forward, a detailed, measured, balanced plan forward of how we're going to rebuild the economy and strengthen the middle class. And they saw another guy who got testy, who interrupted, interrupted the moderator. I sometimes wondered if we even needed a moderator, because we had Mitt Romney. He should rethink that for the next debate. And somebody who is doubling down on the very same policies that crashed our economy in the first place.

He talked to the American people about his plan to voucherize Medicare. He talked to the American people about his plan to repeal Wall Street reform, but couldn't name one single regulation he'd put in place on Wall Street. Talked to the American people about how he doesn't really have a $5 trillion tax cut, which he has been campaigning on for 18 months. So I don't think they leave this debate tonight having any better idea of where Mitt Romney is going to take this country.

YELLIN: All right. Thank you, Stephanie Cutter. Candy, you get a since of the Obama campaign's response there. Obviously, the message from the Obama team is that Mitt Romney is not delivering enough specifics. We knew going in that that was an idea they might come out of this debate with. Sure enough, we're hearing it tonight, Candy.

CROWLEY: Jessica Yellin with Stephanie Cutter from the Obama campaign. Earlier Jim Acosta, of course, with Rob Portman. And that's why they call it the spin room -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Getting their respective spins. Candy, you heard Stephanie Cutter take a little swipe at Jim Lehrer, the moderator of this first debate, suggesting maybe you don't even need a moderator, which of course raised this question in my mind. And I'm sure a lot of our viewers might.

You know who is going to the next moderator of the next presidential debate. That would be you. So give me your impression, give me your sense of what happened tonight from a moderator's perspective. We did see that the president got four extra minutes in the course of this debate over Mitt Romney.

CROWLEY: I think, you know, he's in the arena, there is a -- and I salute anybody that's in there, both the candidates, as well as the moderator. Jim has been around for a long time.

I'm not sure about the minutes. In the end, this debate is, you know, brought to you by these candidates, and to me, it's better to hear from the candidates than to hear from the moderator. Generally, folks who felt their guy lost the debate might want a little more moderator or a little less. But everybody has their different styles.

This is, I think if you look back at other debates that Jim has done, that he tries to engage these candidates, who are very often, as you saw, really unwilling to engage each other. At times, you know, the president wouldn't even look at Mitt Romney. There just seemed to be this sort of they didn't want to go and talk to each other. And I think Jim is one of those that always is very intent on trying to get the two of them to talk to one another to kind of try to explore those differences.

BLITZER: Yes. The president clearly looked irritated on several occasions during that 90-minute debate.

Candy, stand by, our expert team of producers, researchers, reporters, they've been very busy figuring out whether the candidates were telling the truth in tonight's debate.

John Berman is joining us now. He's ready with our first reality check on the president's claim that Mitt Romney wants a $5 trillion tax cut -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You know, Wolf, we knew this was going to be a big issue. It dominated the beginning of the debate. President Obama went right on the attack, saying Mitt Romney is pitching a huge tax cut for the rich.


OBAMA: Governor Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut on top of the extension of the Bush tax cuts. That's another trillion dollars, and another $2 trillion in additional military spending that the military hasn't asked for.


BERMAN: Now let's look at the facts here. Mitt Romney does propose across the board 20 percent tax cuts. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center says under that plan, taxes on the wealthiest Americans would be reduced by $5 trillion initially.

Romney said he would offset that by closing loopholes and reducing reductions. So if you take him at his word, our verdict that Mitt Romney would cut taxes by $5 trillion, the verdict here is false.

But there is more it to this, because I want to turn now to the deficit. Mitt Romney claims that, even with these tax cuts, he will not add to the deficit.


ROMNEY: My No. 1 principle is, there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit. I won't put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit. That's part one. So there's no economist can say, "Mitt Romney's tax plan adds $5 trillion" if I say I will not add to the deficit with my tax plan. My plan is not to put in place any tax cut that will add to the deficit.


BERMAN: Want to look at the facts here again. Mitt Romney has not laid out specifics for how he would pay for his tax cut. He says it's by reducing deductions and closing loopholes, but he hasn't said which or how many. So the verdict here is simply incomplete. We just don't know, Wolf.

BLITZER: He also suggests repeatedly, John, that by improving the economy, there would be a dynamic scoring, as they call it, that there would be more revenue coming in, because more money would be coming into the taxes, because businesses and individuals would be doing better. As a result, he's justifying that trillion-dollar tax cut, if you will.

BERMAN: But it's theoretical, and we don't see the numbers yet. Hence the grade of incomplete.

BLITZER: Yes, there's a lot to be left out. He hasn't offered a lot of those details on the deductions, the loopholes, the exemptions that he would get -- do away with as a result of the across-the-board tax cuts.

John, we're going to check back with you at the top of the hour. We're also going to have a much closer look at how much time each of the candidates spoke. How much they talked on the issues that they discussed the most.

We'll also hear from a CNN focus group of undecided Colorado voters. Did they hear anything that actually now helps them make up their minds?

Finally, we're taking a scientific poll across the country right now. We're asking debate watchers, those who watched the debate, to tell us who they think won. We're asking them other questions, as well. So stand by for that poll. You will see it, you will hear it, first right here on CNN.

Anderson, a lot to assess right now.

COOPER: I want to check in back with Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, also Van Jones, former special advisor to President Obama. Carly, what did you think?

CARLY FIORINA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first, I think we just saw Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, admit that Romney won this debate. And he clearly did. He won it on demeanor. He won it on facts and specifics actually. Obama kept accusing him of not having facts and specifics, and indeed, Romney had loads of facts and specifics.

But I think what was great, actually, is he connected those facts and specifics to real people and real people's lives. He -- I totally agree with James, President Obama looked like he didn't want to be there, and Romney looked energized and focused. I mean, I think he won this thing hands down, I truly do.

COOPER: Van, do you agree with them? Did it seem like the president was kind of just completely rusty on how debates work?

VAN JONES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well -- well, we said that, you know, this guy has to run a country. Romney had a lot of time to figure out how to -- basically, to run his mouth.

Here's the problem that we have, honestly. This is a man who will say anything to get elected. That is -- that's been the rap on Romney. And if you are willing to say anything, as he did, you can do very, very well.

Here's my problem. First of all, the Etch-a-Sketch has now emerged. He said at some point he's going to use the Etch-a-Sketch and be a different person. He's out there now, saying he cares about poor people. Behind closed doors he says 47 percent of Americans are just moochers. There's something wrong here...

COOPER: But you're the only one that brought that up tonight. President Obama did not bring that up.

CARVILLE: He is sitting up there on the stage. He's going to get a lot of advice tomorrow.

BORGER: Romney didn't look like the scary person Obama is trying to make him out to be. Looks like a pretty reasonable guy.


JONES: Let's look at what Romney actually said. Romney says basically -- I mean, I'm trying to figure out where the specifics are. He says he's going to balance the budget, basically by cutting out Big Bird. I couldn't figure out exactly where else he was going to cut.

The other thing he says is that he -- that the offshoring tax should cut doesn't exist. Well, he should know. nobody knows more about offshoring jobs than Mitt Romney.


CASTELLANOS: President Obama has sent out billions of dollars to green energy jobs, not here but to China.

COOPER: And you said the president, were you surprised by how -- I mean, I guess listless would be a word. There were plenty of openings where President Obama could have talked about, you know, banking in the Cayman Islands if he wanted. There was none of that.

JONES: Romney did an extraordinary job of things that you don't expect him to do. He was a great story teller. He was finally able to connect. You have to give him credit for that.

The problem I have with it, though, is that he is doing it in the way that we feared he would do it. He says -- he says somehow he'll magically be able to do all these tax cuts and, at the same time, balance the budget. There's no way to do what he says he is going to do.

COOPER: James.


JONES: I would says corporate jets. He says, well, offshores. Offshores.

CARVILLE: I'll go back to my original thing. It just got the sense that the president would have preferred to be somewhere else. You know, van, I agree with you completely. But he's got to make those points.

And I'll say one thing. Jim Lehrer let these guys -- you know, he let them freelance and let them go back and forth.


CARVILLE: And he did not -- the president didn't bring his "A" game tonight.

JONES: Fair enough.

CARVILLE: Oh, my gosh. Look, don't let me get too gassed up.

BORGER: Jim Lehrer, though (ph).


CARVILLE: None of that.


KING: I agree with James on a couple of points. No. 1, he worked for Bill Clinton when Bill Clinton was trying to unseat an incumbent president. That's a big challenge. You have an incumbent president. He's there. You're asking the American people to remove him.

I thought Governor Romney made a strong point when he said we know the path we are taking is not working, and it's time for a new path.

The other thing -- I want to get up and walk, agreeing with James, is James says we're not the judges here. The voters are the judges. And it's not just the voters. It's the voters in the most important states.

So what does Governor Romney do? He said, "Somebody in Ohio told me about the trouble they're having getting a job." Somebody in Denver pulled Ann aside and said, "I need help with this." He was trying to connect personal stories on his proposals, his policy proposals, trying to connect them with people who live here, in these states we have gold on the map. And that's how we will tell the next few days what the true judges think. And they are the voters, and they are especially the voters in the swing states. Does the polling in Colorado, for example, does it move? This one is very close right now, a dead heat. Does it move in recent days.

The place Romney needs to move the most, that is right here, the state of Ohio. Almost impossible to see Mitt Romney winning the presidency without Ohio. Right now a five, maybe six-point Obama lead.

Florida, another state. Virginia, North Carolina. So the thing we need to watch, Anderson, over the next few days is does this move the polls in the swing states here?

And, Wolf, as you go into the vice-presidential debate. Come on in. The vice-presidential debate, and then two more. That will be the key challenge, I think, without a doubt tonight. Governor Romney will give energy to Republicans. Some Republicans a week, ten days ago were saying not only was he going to lose, but he might hurt down ballot. That talk is gone after this first debate performance.

Now the question is, can he move the numbers in these battleground states? And it will be interesting to watch the post- debate advertising, post-debate resource allocation. I just want to switch maps for one second as you come up and look at this.

Here's what we know coming into the race here. We find our TV spending here. The TV ad counts this is -- we know where we -- this is a little confusing when you look at it first.

Let me just pull out one state. Colorado. The blue is the Obama campaign. The lighter blue is Democratic PACs. The dark red, the Romney campaign. The pinkish red, pro-Romney PACs. This is just the state of Colorado.

You look at the ad spending, why are the Democrats spending more? They're trying to hold this state. You come over some other places, you see why are Republicans spending more? Because they're behind, and they're trying to catch up. It will be very fascinating to watch after debate No. 1.

How does it reset the battle in the battleground states, and then watch the resources, watch the campaigns, watch the planes, watch the ad spending. This is the first act of the final month, and it's going to change things.

BLITZER: You and I, we've studied history. We've covered some of these races. When you have an incumbent president, and a strong challenger comes into one of these debates and stands toe to toe, maybe even does better than an incumbent president, whether it was Ronald Reagan against Jimmy Carter in 1980, or Bill Clinton -- and you and I met in 1992 when we were covering Bill Clinton versus an incumbent president, George H.W. Bush. When the incumbent comes out strong and does well -- when the challenger comes out strong and does well against an incumbent, that challenger almost always gets a boost in the immediate days ahead.

KING: Gets a boost. And the challenge for Governor Romney, and it will be very interesting to see again, how the true judges, the voters, score this one, is the president is personally popular. Even among undecided voters, even among some soft Obama supporters who say, "I'm not sure about the economy. I'm not sure he's been a good economic leader," they like him personally.

So Governor Romney had to make the case against a man who is popular as president and make the case against his policies. Essentially, I was told coming in the point they wanted to make most of all was he's a nice guy; he hasn't been able to create a job.

Is Governor Romney as specific as maybe he wanted to be in saying, "Here's how we'll create them?" That's an open question. But I think without a doubt, if you look at the reaction left and right, everyone, just about, is scoring Romney the winner.

BLITZER: The president was clearly on the defensive. Let's talk about these swing states. In recent days, we've seen a tightening in Florida and in Virginia. Not necessarily so much in Ohio, but the magic number is 270. Walk us through the next 4 1/2 weeks or so.

KING: Well, you come over here. The president came into tonight -- let me close these loops so I don't confuse anybody. The president came into tonight with a decided advantage. You've got to get to 270. So the president has an easier path. I won't call it easy.

And the big question has been, these big -- the bigger of the battleground states. They're all battleground states if they're gold on our map. But Governor Romney has to win Ohio. No Republican has ever won the presidency without that. He's down five, six points in Ohio right now. We have to see what happens. Governor Romney needs this one.

The next one he really needs is the next bigger prize, 29 electoral votes down here in Florida. Governor Romney needs those, too. That puts him right back in play, and then you fight over the rest of the states. The inclination of most people to believe the president will ultimately get Wisconsin. Republicans will disagree. These other states, they're very much in play. Romney has a bit of an advantage in North Carolina right now.

If you score it like that, this is how it would be. Very close to the end. But only, Wolf, only if Governor Romney can get the big ones first. Ohio is the most important for Romney, likely Florida next. It will be very interesting to see how this first debate, if this first debate changes that dynamic in the key battlegrounds.

Our coverage continues right now.

BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer.

We're here in the CNN Election Center for a comprehensive look at how President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney did in their first presidential debate. In this hour, we're releasing the results of CNN's poll of debate watchers. Who do they think actually won tonight?

Our "Reality Check" team, headed by John Berman and Tom Foreman -- they continue to pore through the candidates' answers, their statements. They've already caught several things you're going to want to hear.

And Erin Burnett's standing by with decided voters in Colorado. She'll ask whether tonight's debate helped them make up their minds. We're watching all of this.

The first presidential debate now in the history books. Tonight, just like we will after every upcoming debate, we're breaking it down issue by issue. Bigger tiles (ph) mean more talk from the candidate on a particular topic. Looking at some of the totals, we'll show you what's going on. But first, here are some of the highlights from this, the first presidential debate.


MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. GOV., PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test if they don't pass it. Is the program so critical, it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I'll get rid of it.

"Obama care" is on my list. I apologize, Mr. President. I use that term with all respect.


ROMNEY: Good. OK. Good. So -- so I get rid of that. I'm sorry, Jim, I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS! I love Big Bird! I actually like you, too. But I'm not going to -- I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for.

So that's number one. Number two, I'll take programs that are currently good programs but I think could be run more efficiently at the state level and send them to the state. Number three, I'll make government more efficient, going to cut back the number of employees, combine some agencies and departments. My cutbacks will be done through attrition, by the way.

This is the approach we have to take to get America to a balanced budget.

OBAMA: I put forward a specific $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. It's on a Web site. You can look at all the numbers, what cuts we make and what revenue we raise.

And the way we do it is $2.50 for every cut, we ask for $1 of additional revenue, paid for, as I indicated earlier, by asking those of us who have done very well in this country to contribute a little bit more to reduce the deficit. Governor Romney earlier mentioned the Bowles-Simpson commission. Well, that's how the commission -- a bipartisan commission that talked about how we should move forward suggested we have to do it, in a balanced way with some revenue and some spending cuts. And this is a major difference that Governor Romney and I have.

Let -- let me just finish this point because you're looking for contrasts. You know, when Governor Romney stood on a stage with other Republican candidates for the nomination and he was asked, Would you take $10 of spending cuts for just $1 of revenue, and he said no.


BLITZER: Substantive debate on the major issues facing the country right now, the domestic issues, the economic issues, health care, taxes, the nation's debt. They got into the weeds in some areas, but this was a very, very important debate.

Anderson Cooper is obviously watching all of this with all of our analysts, as well -- Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC360": Yes, fascinating to see both men on the stage for the first time. And you really did see a difference not just in terms of policy but in terms of temperament and debating style.

I want to bring in our political analysts Gloria Borger and David Gergen. Even President Obama's final statement didn't seem like he really had much of a final statement, other than, like, Well, I'll keep working hard, which Mitt Romney seemed much more prepared.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It was sort of flat to me. It was -- it was...

COOPER: You noticed a big difference in terms of male/female viewers.

BORGER: I did. Well, there are a lot of things I noticed. First of all, I think Mitt Romney was, to use President Obama's words, likable enough at this debate. He really was.

Second, the thing that I noticed on our dial tests as I was watching, when President Obama spoke about health care, women just were up, men were down. When Mitt Romney spoke about health care, business, small business, men were up. You saw the gender gap there tremendously on everything.

One thing I want to say about Mitt Romney that he did very well, was he seemed to tie everything back to creating jobs, and that's what he needs to do well on if he's going to win this election. Everything, health care, everything else was about job creation.

COOPER: David?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Anderson, we had a big upset here tonight. You know, by 2 to 1, American people thought that the president would win this first debate, and he lost. And I think it was a surprise for all of us here.

Mitt Romney came prepared to play. He drove the debate. I sensed the president had never been talked to like this over the last four years, and I think -- to go to a point Van Jones (ph) has made earlier this evening -- and that is I think he was so surprised that he thought Romney was just sort of flat-out lying, you know, that he never proposed a 20 percent tax cut when, you know, we've been hearing that a lot.

And I think that sort of threw him off his game. But what it does really do is it propels all of this campaign now into the next debate. You know, Mitt Romney -- Mitt Romney could have gone down tonight and this race basically would have been over. I think now we have a horse race on our hands.

COOPER: Do you think the Democrats are going to hire Rob Portman for debate preparation (INAUDIBLE)



BORGER: ... this thing also, The ads in this campaign have been so negative and so nasty, the Obama campaign and the Romney campaign, that I sort of expected President Obama to start tacking about Bain Capital...

COOPER: There was none of that.

BORGER: ... 47 percent.

COOPER: None of that at all.

BORGER: None of that.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think we've learned one important lesson. Never debate on your anniversary.


CASTELLANOS: It just doesn't seem to work. Tell you a big change, though, is President Obama has been running ads in all these swing states about this terrible person Mitt Romney, who wants to eat babies and throw granny in the snow. And you know, it's just terrible. That guy didn't show up tonight.


CASTELLANOS: Instead, America met a guy with very a calm, presidential temperament, very -- as a matter of fact, nice interchange with President Obama on a lot of things.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Including his anniversary.


CASTELLANOS: ... very comfortable in your living room as president.


JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: ... be very interesting to see because we all believe in -- that Governor Romney had a good night. It's going to be interesting to see what the poll numbers do. If he...


CARVILLE: I expect them to. If they don't, he's got a real problem! (INAUDIBLE) much (INAUDIBLE) The second thing, we should not forget this (INAUDIBLE) remember, he just literally threw his whole tax plan under the bus. I mean, that -- that -- and you know, there -- there's a followup to this. He's got -- there's another debate. There's everything tomorrow. There's more shows. There's more everything. And I think the Democrats are going to really, really jump on this. You know, I never proposed any such thing. So it is...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're expecting -- you're expecting team Obama to go hard tomorrow.

CARVILLE: Yes, I think team Obama knows what happened tonight. I don't think -- but I also think that this is the way this campaign worked out. What happened tonight is going to play out clearly through the weekend until the next debate. So we should be a little -- a little temperament in terms of...


CARLY FIORINA, FMR. MCCAIN CAMPAIGN ADVISER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: One of the things that I thought was really interesting about this debate, including, of course, the fact that Romney won it and everybody knows it, including Obama's campaign managers -- but to me, Romney seemed like he understood the issues better than Obama did.

It was striking to me when Romney said, for example, Well, yes, President Obama, I agree with training, but there are 47 different programs and eight agencies, and that costs a lot of money, and we need to consolidate those, and oh, by the way, President Obama, your support of green energy is costing $90 billion and we could cut that out. Romney did a masterful job...

COOPER: He had a lot of (INAUDIBLE)

FIORINA: ... of demonstrating that he knows the issues.

COOPER: We're awaiting the results of our poll of tonight's debate watchers, see who they think won next. And more from our panelists (INAUDIBLE)


BLITZER: Our expert team of producers, researchers and reporters, they've been very, very busy trying to figure out whether the candidates were telling the truth in tonight's debate. John Berman's ready with another "Reality Check" -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Medicare's been a big topic of discussion for some time. Mitt Romney made the claim, like he has repeatedly, that President Obama is looking to make cuts that affect people on the program today.


ROMNEY: What I support is no change for current retirees and near retirees to Medicare, and the president supports taking $716 billion out of that program.


BERMAN: He also used other language in his closing, saying Obama flat-out wants to cut Medicare by $716 billion. This one has been checked and checked again. What President Obama has proposed are not cuts to Medicare. Medicare will still grow, it will just grow more slowly, a reduction of growth by $716 billion, and a lot of the money coming out of Medicare Advantage, not money for beneficiaries.

So the verdict here is, with the language Mitt Romney uses, the verdict is false.

I want to talk now about health care in general. President Obama said there's some good news about health care cost premiums.


OBAMA: And over the last two years, health care premiums have gone up, it's true, but they've gone up slower than any time in the last 50 years. So we're already beginning see progress...


BERMAN: Now, let's look at the facts here. Medicare (SIC) premiums did increase 4 percent from last year, so there is growth here. But the head of the Kaiser Family Foundation, an authority on the matter, does say growth is at historic lows. We're not sure if it's lower than 50 years, which is what President Obama said, but growth is still slow.

So our verdict here, this appears to be true, but we're going to follow up tomorrow with the Kaiser Family Foundation to find out what they say about the 50-year claim -- Anderson.

COOPER: Thanks very much for that. A lot more to talk about. What else surprised you tonight? I mean...

JOHN KING, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the president just didn't seem like he wanted to debate Romney. Again, he never mentioned 47 percent. He never mentioned 47 percent meaning Mitt Romney's critical, awful (INAUDIBLE) remarks about Obama supporters. He never mentioned Bain Capital. He never made the case, when Governor Romney was saying, I'm the guy who can create jobs -- he never went back to the Massachusetts record and said Massachusetts was 47th of the 50 states in that period of time.

COOPER: Do you think...


COOPER: ... he wanted to be seeming presidential and let that other stuff...


COOPER: ... just have the campaign do it or...

KING: He's not -- if he did, if he came in there thinking, I'm ahead, therefore, I'm going to stay above the fray, that's a strategic mistake because he's not that far ahead.

COOPER: Van, Van Jones, what do you think (INAUDIBLE)

VAN JONES, FORMER OBAMA WHITE HOUSE ADVISER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think that they have the wrong strategy. I -- when they say he wants to have a conversation with the American people, you know, I think most people say, Well, that's cute (ph). He's going to get in there. He's going to kick some butt.

I think he thought 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. But much more importantly, Romney was able to out-Obama Obama on the connection (ph) piece (ph), on the authenticity piece, on being able to tell the story.

And I just think that -- I think that they had the wrong strategy. And I think this idea you're going to get here, you're going to be able to have a conversation and it's going to -- and have -- treat it like a town hall format with nobody else there...


JONES: ... set him up for failure.

CASTELLANOS: Van, I think that's right, but I don't know anybody on the -- on the Obama campaign who would have advised Barack Obama to go into this debate and play defense. I mean, these guys just ran one of the best presidential campaigns in American history four years ago. But sometimes, when you get into office, you're president of the United States, you're there to defend your record.

COOPER: James, do you think (INAUDIBLE) going to have an impact, we're going to see...

CASTELLANOS: He said (ph) let -- let Romney play offense all night.

CARVILLE: Let's -- let's be -- these guys have run a very good campaign thus far. I don't think that that -- that President Obama did what his (INAUDIBLE) campaign wanted to do. I think he was off his game tonight.

But let's don't go overboard here. There's going to be, like, a big sort of pushback...


CARVILLE: OK, fine. I mean, I understand. I'm saying that -- and it's the same campaign and the same guy who did this well leading up to it. My point is this, is President Obama came here (ph), he wanted to have a conversation. Takes two people to have a conversation. Mitt Romney came here with a chainsaw!



FIORINA: With all -- with all due respect...

CARVILLE: (INAUDIBLE) don't do respect. Just say you what you got to say.

FIORINA: Well, all right.



FIORINA: Here is what I believe. President Obama has been out on the campaign trail. Yes, he's run a good campaign, but he has been speaking to the faithful, and no one has challenged him. Romney comes up and challenges him on every fact, every specific, and most especially, Romney challenges him with facts and specifics on President Obama's own record!


FIORINA: And he did it very effectively.


CARVILLE: ... going to be a big debate about...


BORGER: Romney...


CARVILLE: ... leave it on there without due respect. This could be a big debate about Romney's facts...


BORGER: Can I just say something about... FIORINA: Well, but Obama had none!


BORGER: When we watched Mitt Romney during the primaries, his worst moments -- and there were many -- were when he was challenged during those debates, whether it was by Rick Perry, who got under his skin, or -- he wasn't challenged tonight.

And I think that the Obama people may have been waiting for sort of a moment when Mitt Romney would be caught off guard, but their guy didn't -- didn't dig at him, and that might have prompted an error on Romney's part because he's not good when things get awkward.

COOPER: David, just briefly, then we got to go.

GERGEN: Yes. My experience with presidents, Anderson, is during the first term, they're surrounded by people who are pretty sycophantic. You know, the debate around you is, Are you the greatest president ever, or merely wonderful? And that's sort of the environment you're surrounded by.



GERGEN: And so you go into something like this and you're -- it's so unexpected to have somebody come and challenge you sharply like this, and you don't want to be there. But I've also seen presidents who (INAUDIBLE) reverse themselves...

COOPER: So you -- you -- tonight you think we saw the results of being in a bubble, presidential bubble, for four years.

GERGEN: That's my...


GERGEN: ... my hunch.

KING: Not the first incumbent to have a bad first debate.


GERGEN: But they generally have a very strong second debate.

COOPER: Right.

GERGEN: And that's why this goes (INAUDIBLE)

COOPER: We'll watch that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: (INAUDIBLE) that Rob Portman, the senator from Ohio, played the president in the preparation for Mitt Romney. He's getting a lot of credit tonight. John Kerry played Mitt Romney for the president, not hearing so much about John Kerry. We're going to check in with that.

Both candidates clearly threw around some big numbers when they promised to create jobs. Our own Tom Foreman is joining us with a "Reality Check" right now -- Tom.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, this has been the dominant issue of this entire election -- jobs, jobs, jobs, who can create them, who can't. And it was the first issue that these candidates lit into tonight. Listen.


OBAMA: Over the last 30 months, we've seen 5 million jobs in the private sector created. The auto industry has come roaring back. And housing has begun to rise.

ROMNEY: They're suffering in this country! And we talk about evidence? Look at the evidence of the last four years! It's absolutely extraordinary! We've got 23 million people out of work!


FOREMAN: You heard the fundamental claim there. The president says he created 5 million jobs. Mitt Romney says not so much. Let's look at the facts and figure out what we can.

In 2009, this is what the country looked like. Everywhere that you see a brown state, they were losing jobs in the first full year of Barack Obama's presidency. Look at Ohio over here, unemployment at that time 10.6 percent.

But three years passed. We see some increases in various job areas, retail, health care, education. And look at the map today. Every state that becomes lighter in this picture is a state where there was an improvement in the unemployment rate over that period of time.

And I will tell you there were a great many of them out here. The unemployment rate over here for Ohio also changed, 7.2 percent. Look at that massive change in the country in terms of the improvement in terms of states that are no longer losing jobs, but are now making jobs.

To make that happen, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says, in fact, you had to have a lot of job creation. How much? 4.4 million jobs created. What you don't hear so much about, though, is that in the dark days, we lost 4.3 million jobs. So the net gain, according to the official record so far, is only 125,000 jobs.

Based on that, even though the president did create a good many jobs, or see a lot of them created in his time, when you look on all of that and you look at the extent of his claim, 5 million jobs created, we have to say that that's simply false.

I know many Democrats will say that's because of the Bush years and the economy that he was left. Many voters agree with them. But the numbers simply don't add up quite the way the president would like them to -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Tom, Mitt Romney also made a very strong claim out there that there are 23 million people who are out of work. Does that number hold up to scrutiny?

FOREMAN: That number certainly bears scrutiny, Wolf. Imagine this. We have about -- $51,000 is the median income in this country. Let's bring up some tools here to talk about how he would come up with such a number.

This is roughly what everybody in the country is making -- low wages over here, mid wages, high wages. Look what happened when the recession began. Everybody lost jobs, but the low-wage jobs lost less. And when everything started coming back, look what happened. The low-wage jobs came back more, while the mid-wage and high-wage didn't do so well. So the truth is, we lost better-paying jobs than we got back.

That's part of what Mitt Romney is counting. He's counting unemployment, he's counting people who've given up on looking, he's counting people with part-time jobs who'd like to be full-time. And he's counting people who are underemployed.

So like Barack Obama, what he's doing is taking some generally OK numbers and he's stretching them to the breaking point, and that makes his claim also false, Wolf.

BLITZER: Bottom line -- what is the bottom line here when it comes to jobs, the whole issue of the facts of the jobs issue? Who benefits the most?

FOREMAN: Well, once he (ph) pushes out (ph) all the up and down and everything else, there is an absolute unemployment rate, and we know, it is a fact, it's hard for a president to get reelected with a high unemployment rate.

Let's look at all the presidents who have been elected since the 1950s -- reelected, reelected since the 1940s -- and the relative unemployment rates. Dwight Eisenhower over here, 4.1 percent. Richard Nixon, 5.6 percent. Ronald Reagan, 7.5 percent. That was huge in its day. Bill Clinton, 5.1 percent. The second George Bush, 5.4 percent.

But then look at Barack Obama down here, 8.1 percent. That's a whopping number for any president to have to carry into a reelection campaign.

Barack Obama made history when he was elected the first time. If he gets reelected again with that number sitting on his shoulders, that will also be historic because no president has done it since Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, Wolf, in the fading days of the Great Depression.

BLITZER: Interesting. And we're going to get a new jobs report coming out Friday morning for the month of September. We'll see what those numbers are, what impact it winds up having. Anderson, back to you.

ANDERSON: Thanks very much, Wolf, and the hologram, Tom Foreman.

The -- David, to your point, that -- that presidents in the past who have had a bad first debate performance came back strong -- how did they retool? How -- what changes do they make? Do they just practice more?

GERGEN: Well, the most famous case, President Reagan, 1984, and he lost that first debate to Mondale, and people thought he was senile. He wasn't there. He didn't seem to care. And then he came -- he was just much better prepared.

They're competitive. Presidents are competitive. And no one's more competitive than Barack Obama. We all know that.

ANDERSON: Right. People say he loves to win every single game he plays...

GERGEN: He's going to be the guy back in that -- back in -- you know, in the -- in the room tonight, saying, Guys, we're not doing this again.


KING: The question is what happens in the race over that period of time. The next debate's a town hall, too. It's a different dynamic.

ANDERSON: And we got the results now of our flash poll (INAUDIBLE)

BLITZER: We did just get the results and we're ready to release the results. This is the poll that we just did, registered voters who actually watched the debate tonight. We asked them who won the debate. Look at this, 67 percent say it was Mitt Romney, 25 percent say it was President Obama, a very, very decisive verdict from this poll that we just took, a scientific poll, registered voters who actually watched the debate, 67 percent say it was an excellent night for Mitt Romney, he won the debate, 25 percent for the president of the United States, Barack Obama, very consistent, Anderson, with all of the various reactions we're getting from the left and the right so far, a very good night for Mitt Romney, not so good for the president of the United States.

ANDERSON: And John, you say those poll numbers are very telling.

KING: In polarized America, for any candidate to get above 50- something is huge because the country is just divided when it comes to the presidential election. There are 47 percent who are solid -- 45 -- 43, 45 percent solid Republican, 46, 47 percent solid Democrat...

ANDERSON: Are those undecided voters, or do we know?

KING: No, these are registered voters who watched the debate. So you have...


KING: You have a lot of president's supporters saying he got spanked tonight.


BORGER: But it tightens -- what this means -- and I'm not -- is that it's likely, as we saw in 2004, when John Kerry won the first debate, that the -- that the -- the polls will tighten a bit, and -- but it also means to me that the Obama campaign can't press the delete button fast enough on this debate, and they will go out there and they will erase it.

And they will go on the attack, and they're very, very good at doing that, and the president can be good at doing that. So -- so it may get him back on his -- on his game.

GERGEN: It may not change the numbers very quickly, but what it does prompt a lot of people to do is to say, I need to take a second look.

ANDERSON: And Alex Castellanos, you raised the point about money was leaving Mitt Romney, or at least trickling, lessening to Mitt Romney. This changes that.

CASTELLANOS: A lot of buzz out there that the high-dollar contributors, financial supporters, Romney campaign -- Hey, look, this is not looking so good. Let's keep an eye on that first debate and see if we should stay in this game.

Well, Mitt Romney got a big boost tonight. I think tomorrow morning, you're going to see a lot of people step up to the plate for Mitt Romney and fund that campaign.

ANDERSON: We haven't heard -- we just heard from the American people in our poll right now, registered voters. And we haven't heard from undecided voters. We're going to hear from our focus group when we come back.


BLITZER: We're getting ready to hear from the undecided voters of the focus group in Colorado who were listening, watching what was going on. Erin Burnett is out there. We're going to hear what they had to say.

Did this debate change their minds? Are they ready to tell us who they now will support for president of the United States? Could be significant. We'll stand by to hear from the focus group.

The first presidential debate, as all of you now know, is history. It's in the history books. But we're breaking it down for you minute by minute, issue by issue. Bigger tiles mean more talk time from the candidate on a particular topic. Looking first at the totals. President Obama on the left there, in blue, speaking for 42 minutes and 50 second tonight. That's more than four minutes longer than Governor Romney there on the right, in red.

Now the top three issues as determined by the clock. And our political experts, they're using their best judgment to categorize what the candidates say. Number one for Obama, it's the economy, at ten minutes and 49 seconds. Number one for Romney, also the economy, nine minutes and eight seconds.

The president had health care as his second issue, namely Obamacare. For the challenger, it was the budget and taxes. President Obama spent the third most time talking about budget and taxes, about a minute less than Governor Romney. Romney's number three issue, by the way, was health care.

Big differences, though. when you drill down. Take a look at energy. President Obama spent just 19 seconds on energy. Governor Romney talked about it for a minute and 43 seconds. In fact when asked a question on education, he pivoted to energy, spending far less time in education, two minutes and 17 seconds. President Obama devoted nearly twice as much time to that issue, four minutes and 15 seconds.

We're watching this very closely. Anderson, back to you.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Now, John King has been looking closer at the flash poll numbers that we just got. You have some -- the numbers on the economy.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They asked the question, who would better handle the economy? Let me scroll down. Let's look at some other numbers as well.

Look, this is -- it's clear in our poll. The overall verdict goes to Governor Romney who won the debate. Who would better handle the economy, Romney 55, Obama 43. So a 12-point advantage there for Governor Romney. And what I would say as the defining question of the election. The question is, is it a temporary case?


DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Compared to where it was before?

KING: We've got to be careful. It's not apples and apples. This is a poll of registered voters who watched the debate. So it's not a poll of all likely voters which -- so we need to be careful. It's not apples and apples. But in our most recent national poll, they were tied on that question.

COOPER: And Van Jones, you were saying something during the commercial break which I though was really interesting about. Changing -- you saw a different Romney tonight.

VAN JONES, FORMER OBAMA SPECIAL ADVISER: Well, yes, I mean, I -- up until now, to me, you look at Romney, you think Thurston Howell III. Right? He's not presidential. He seems to be sort of all over the place. Tonight, he's presidential. And I think that for people who are losing some steam on his side, I think they got a big shot in the arm.

Now on the other side of it, the fact-checkers now are going nuts. If you look at social media people are now -- they're coming back and they said, hold on a second, they said this is not true, so that is not true, the $90 billion. He goes after -- it wasn't $90 billion in tax breaks for all those stuff. It was a $90 billion investment across the board including for parks, for land restoration, a whole bunch of stuff.

So as -- so I think what happens is tonight his side is enthusiastic, they should be, he did well, but I think you're going to have a Paul Ryan effect tomorrow. As more of what he said gets taken apart.


GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: But why didn't the president --

CARLY FIORINA, 2008 MCCAIN CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Obama had no facts, there are no facts to check on his side.


COOPER: Go ahead.

CASTELLANOS: Can I just point out that -- Van, you just made a great case that by winning he actually lost? Most of the times when you win you win.


FIORINA: Yes. When you win you win.

CASTELLANOS: What will happen over over the next few days is you're going to see --

COOPER: Sorry to interrupt. We're getting a big flash poll update. And we're going to talk about that.

Wolf, what's -- what are we getting there?

BLITZER: Let me just update our viewers. The results now from our scientific poll of debate watchers across the country. We asked, among other things, who did the debate make you more likely to vote for? Thirty-five percent -- look at this, 35 percent said Mitt Romney, 18 percent said President Obama, 47 percent said neither candidate.

We also asked who said seemed to be the stronger leader. Look at this, 58 percent said Governor Romney, 37 percent said President Obama. And debate watchers were also asked who is more likeable, likeable, 46 percent said Romney, 45 percent said President Obama.

So let's Candy Crowley, she's out at the University of Denver. She's watching what's going on. You've got a special guest there as well. A top adviser, a top adviser to the president's campaign, David Axelrod.

Candy, but it looks like our poll, our general poll, 67 percent said that Romney won this debate. Only 25 percent said the president won the debate. And look, so many more people thought that they were now going to vote for Romney as a result of this debate as opposed, as opposed to the president.

These are good numbers for Romney. Not such good numbers for the president.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. I do have David Axelrod, senior adviser to the Obama campaign. What happened here?

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Well, look, I think we have a very vigorous debate. I don't think you can measure these debates in instant polls on the night of the debate.


CROWLEY: OK. But let's measure it by even Democratic standards.

AXELROD: No, no, wait. Candy, let's me -- let me just finish. We don't want to have a debate here.

CROWLEY: Sure we do.

AXELROD: Let me -- let me just finish. I think what happened tonight was Governor Romney laid down a series of positions and now you and others are going to be following this tomorrow. And so the American people. He does actually have a $5 trillion tax plan, has no plausible way to pay for it. He is proposing -- $2 trillion more in Pentagon spending, no plausible way to pay for it. He -- he reaffirmed the position he took.

I think in one of your debates or perhaps it was someone else's, with the Republicans saying that he wouldn't accept $1 of new revenue to help solve our deficit program, even on the very wealthy. He said he'd --

CROWLEY: Let me --

AXELROD: -- turn Medicare to a voucher program.

CROWLEY: Let me take you back to the debate, though. Because that's what -- I mean, you know, this is -- there could be something else tomorrow, heaven only knows, but tonight it's a debate that even Democrats have said -- you know, what happened to President Obama? Why didn't he show up? He seemed listless, he seemed like didn't want to be there. He -- and Mitt Romney seemed like he showed up to play, and the president bought his C game. What -- what's going on here? AXELROD: Well, I don't know that he brought his C game but -- and I wasn't surprised that Governor Romney gave an energetic performance, he's been practicing since June, and he's a very good debater, particularly when he's on the attack.

But, Candy, we can have discussion about the theater of the moment but what happened tonight was --

CROWLEY: Does it matter?

AXELROD: Well, I think what matters at the end of the day is, if you lay down a series of positions that are troubling to the American people, no matter what kind of package they're wrapped in, it only -- it only exacerbates the problem that you have. So, you know, anybody who doubted that Mitt Romney has a voucher program for Medicare now knows. Anyone who doubts that he -- that he will not budge on his pledge not to ask the wealthy to contribute one more dollar to the deficit, they know.

CROWLEY: But you know the president had the -- had the chance to kind of make that case, and you get on the flash poll, and you're right. It's a flash poll. We'll see what happens going forward.


CROWLEY: It's like bumps from the convention, we'll see what happens. But you look at that flash poll, people who watch this thing, when you -- I mean all the way down the line, it's advantage Romney. Who would you rather have handled the economy? Romney by a huge margin. Who would you rather have -- Medicare, I mean just all the way. So it just seemed like the president just didn't respond in a way that folks -- but everybody went into this debate expecting he'd win.

AXELROD: Well --

CROWLEY: It seems like --

AXELROD: I was very candid that I thought that Governor -- first of all, the challenger always -- always, always, always gets a bump out of these first debate with the sitting president because they're on the stage with the president, toe to toe. That's been the history of these things. And much has been written about that. We knew that.


AXELROD: We also knew that Governor Romney has been practicing and rehearsing his lines since June for this. So, you know --

CROWLEY: And we do know you also get another one. Will I see you October 16th?

AXELROD: I'll be there.

CROWLEY: I'll be there, too.

AXELROD: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, David. I appreciate it.


CROWLEY: Hey, Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Candy will be moderating that next presidential debate.

Let's go back out to Denver right now. Jim Acosta has got a special guest. The Florida senator, Marco Rubio, who obviously supports Mitt Romney.

He must be pretty happy, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right -- that's right, Wolf. And I can tell you that we had Senator Rubio listen to David Axelrod's comments to Candy Crowley just a few moments ago.

So let me ask you about that. We heard David Axelrod say let's not get caught up in the theater of the moment. But I'm guessing from your vantage point, it was a pretty good play tonight.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Well, I think the only one more frustrated than Barack Obama tonight is David Axelrod from what I just heard. He didn't look comfortable either.

Look, I think it's pretty clear that Barack Obama was incredibly uncomfortable tonight talking about things like taxes, the budget, the jobs, happened to be the most important things in America. That's what he's uncomfortable about. And there's a reason why he's uncomfortable. Number one he doesn't understand the American free enterprise system. Doesn't understand how it works. Number two, probably doesn't believe in it the way Mitt Romney believes in it.

And number three, he has a terrible record on it. I mean look at the jobs, look at the growth in poverty, look at the unemployment rate, look at the suffering of the American middle class, which has been buried over the last four years as Joe Biden reminded us yesterday, under the policies of Barack Obama.

He was very uncomfortable tonight. At one point, Barack Obama turned to the moderator and asked him to change the subject. Let's move on to something else. Well, we're not going to move on to something else. Because this is the issue of the moment.

ACOSTA: So let me ask you about something that came up tonight because at one point during the debate, Governor Romney did acknowledge that his plan is basically a voucher program for Medicare, and I'm just curious how that's going to go over in your state of Florida.

RUBIO: Well, what he acknowledged is that for current beneficiaries, people that are on it now or about to retire, they're going to have the exact same Medicare that they've always had. What he said is for future generations like Paul Ryan, like me, when we retire, we're going to get subsidy support from the government. And it's going to match the level of Medicare.

If we want to use it to stay on regular Medicare, we can do that or we have a choice. We can go out and buy private Medicare. If you're very rich, my generation again, you're going to have to pay a little bit more. If you're poor, you're not going to pay anything at all. That's what he described tonight. It's a plan that's been endorsed by Republicans and Democrats. It's a plan to save Medicare. Where is the president's plan to save Medicare? When is he going to show us his plan to save Medicare?

ACOSTA: Well, the president would say that his plan to save Medicare would be not to go with the Romney-Ryan-Rubio approach.

RUBIO: OK, well, that's fine. He's just have to go with that approach. What is his approach? He's been president for four years. Where is his plan to save Medicare? It's going to go bankrupt, not just for my generation, for my mom. For her generation. What he is doing about it, other than taking $700 billion out of it.

BLITZER: All right. We just lost that connection. But we're going to try to reconnect with Jim Acosta and Senator Marco Rubio. We're also about to see the highs and the lows. The ratings for the candidates from our focus group of undecided voters. We're going to hear from them as well.

Also, you could see the debate again in its entirety in just a little bit. Stay with us.


BLITZER: We have more results that have just come in from our poll of registered voters across the country who watched tonight's debate. We asked, who would better handle the economy. Look at this, 55 percent said Governor Romney, 43 percent said President Obama.

We also asked who would better handle health care, 52 percent said Romney, 47 percent said President Obama. We asked who would better handle taxes, 53 percent said Romney, 44 percent said President Obama. We asked, who would better handle the nation's deficit, 57 percent said Romney, 41 percent said President Obama. We asked, who agrees with your views about government? That was the question we asked. 54 percent said Governor Romney, 44 percent said President Obama.

Anderson, looks like a clean sweep on all those respective questions for Governor Romney over President Obama.

COOPER: Wolf, are you clear on who these voters are? Who were polled?

BLITZER: Yes. These are registered voters --

COOPER: Republicans, Democrats -- BLITZER: Republicans, Democrats, undecided, people who were called across the country, the scientific survey and we asked them these question. We just wanted to make sure they actually watched the debate. These are not all registered voters, not all likely voters, these are registered voters who actually watched the debate.

COOPER: And does that mean -- John, does that mean an even number of Republicans than Democrats?

KING: That's a sample. When you do one of these polls, you're calling instantly after the debate. So you're getting the sample you get. And our -- our polling director says it's this -- our sample of debate watchers -- again, this is a sample of people watching the debate. They're registered voters. A few points more Republicans than a typical sample of all Americans. So you would expect, it's a few points, not a large lead. But it's a few points more Republican than the typical poll you would take of all voters.

So some people say, a-ha, that's why Romney did better. However, 67-25. It's a little bit more Republican than the nation as a whole. Romney still trounces on just about every characteristic. So it still -- it shows you that debate watchers give Romney a convincing victory. But we need to be fair --

COOPER: Gloria?

KING: -- and say it's a slightly more Republican sample than the poll we will take next week.

BORGER: Right.

KING: When we ask the country at large.

BORGER: Now the interesting thing we were -- we were talking about during the break here with James is that, while on the issues that Wolf just mentioned, Mitt Romney did better in this debate, when we asked debate watchers their opinion of President Obama before the debate, after the debate, favorable, unfavorable, unchanged essentially, and the same for Mitt Romney, essentially unchanged. But Mitt Romney's favorable before the debate was 54 percent which is a high favorable rating for him, 56 percent after the -- after the debate.

But so while they may have believed that Mitt Romney won this debate, the question is whether it has changed their entire attitude --

COOPER: And let's assume that we can (INAUDIBLE).

BORGER: -- towards Mitt Romney.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, that sample -- I think we're going to find out that sample was a little bit more than just a few points more Republican if he had a 54 percent favorable. I have never seen a poll like that.

The second thing is, is that you got to say the idea that as you moved the needle on favorability. Didn't move it at all.


CARVILLE: Sixty-five percent said that he won it. And even if you look at the -- if you look at the issue of distinctions in a sample that seemed to me to be a few more than a few points more Republican, if you just look at -- just the straight favorability thing, I'm now -- and people said, yes, he won the debate. We said he won the debate. Everybody in here said he won the debate. I'm not sure if the payoff is going to be that huge. I'm --


GERGEN: We don't know the payoff yet. You've been saying that all night. I don't think we know one way or the other. The sample does sound like it's skewed, more Republican as you just said. It's worth noting that CBS also took a poll tonight of undecideds, and they had it by about 2-1 Romney winning. So we have at least two polls out there.

We'll have to wait and see what happens.


GERGEN: We do know that when John Kerry won his first debate he didn't -- some people thought he won all three but lost the election. So --

CARVILLE: David, there's a 3 percent undecided. How can CBS do a poll of undecideds?

GERGEN: I'm just --


FIORINA: But I also -- but I also think --

GERGEN: We don't want to tip any poll -- we can do that.


GERGEN: But you've already agreed Romney won the debate.

FIORINA: I also think there's no --

CARVILLE: I do. Yes, I do. But how much is the payoff.


COOPER: We've got a focus -- we've got to go to our undecided focus group because we're almost out of time -- Wolf.

BLITZER: So let's take a closer look at our focus group of undecided Colorado voters and how they responded to tonight's candidates, the debate. We measured their reaction as they listen to President Obama and Governor Romney. The green line represents the men. The yellow line represents the women in the focus group.

Here's President Obama's best moment of the night. It happened at around 9:06 p.m. near the top of the debate when he talked about investments in America. Listen to the president make a case in his opening statement.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we've got to invest in education and training. I think it's important for us to develop new sources of energy here in America. That we change our tax code to make sure that we're helping small businesses and companies that are investing here in the United States. That we take some of the money that we're saving as we wind down two wars to rebuild America, and that we reduce our deficit in a balanced way that allows us to make these critical investments.


BLITZER: Now let's take a look at one of Mitt Romney's best moments in the debate. He peeked with both men and women, by the way, at 10:16 p.m. Eastern near the end of the debate. He was asked about the role of government. Listen to Romney's high point.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: I believe we must maintain our commitment to religious tolerance and freedom in this country. That statement also says that we are endowed by our creator with the right to pursue happiness as we choose. I interpret that as, one, making sure that those people who are less fortunate and can't care for themselves are cared for by one another.


BLITZER: Let's bring in CNN's Erin Burnett. She's out there in Colorado with this focus group.

Tell us what's going on over there, Erin?

ERIN BURNETT, HOST, "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT": All right. Well, this has been a pretty interesting night, Wolf. Everyone here was listening, and I was looking over. There were little dials going left and right. Left and right.

This is an undecided group of voters, Wolf. So they didn't like when people -- when either candidate got negative or stomped on the moderator, but they did, as you just pointed out, react in particular to those two moments.

The overall takeaway here, though, is of those moments that scored incredibly high, Romney had more of them in our audience of 39 undecided voters than Barack Obama did. Seven of them and about only four for Barack Obama.

So let's talk about Mitt Romney's strength. First of all, how many of you here rated him a stronger leader? And that was one of the areas, everyone, where Mitt Romney really stood out. So let me come over and ask Karen Ransic (ph) a question.

You earlier had said you're an unemployed voter. You're trying to make up your mind. When we just heard that high moment from Mitt Romney, it stood out to you, why did it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I did stand out to me. I was surprised that President Obama did not stand out more and stronger in this. When Mitt Romney said the things that he said, especially when he was leaning back and showing the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and it just really struck in me, that yes, this man could really help me in the job market and in our economy. He's down -- he stood out as a stronger candidate to me.

BURNETT: Did he stand out as someone who connects with you personally in a way that he hasn't so far?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I honestly thought from his ads he was much more aloof than he appeared to be tonight.

BURNETT: All right. And so now let's get to some of the lows, Wolf. And there were a couple of moments that -- that our focus group at least reacted very negatively to.

BLITZER: And let's take a look at some of those lows, Erin. The low points in the debate for President Obama and Governor Romney. Let's begin with the president first. It came at 9:18 p.m. Eastern, when he was talking about taxes but seemed to take a dig at Governor Romney. Men and women both rejected the president's argument. Watch.


OBAMA: For 18 months, he's been running on this tax plan, and now five weeks before the election he is saying that his big, bold idea is never mind. And the fact is that if you are lowering the rates the way you describe, Governor, then it is not possible to come up with enough deductions and loopholes that only affect high-income individuals to avoid either raising the deficit or burdening the middle class.


BLITZER: All right. That was the president's lowest moment according to our focus group our in Colorado. Governor Romney's low point happened about halfway through the debate at 9:43 p.m. Eastern, when he talked about cuts to entitlements.


ROMNEY: But on Medicare, for current retirees, he's cutting $716 billion from the program. Now he says by not overpaying hospitals and providers. Actually just going to them and saying, we're going to reduce the rates you get paid across the board. Everybody is going to get a lower rate. That's not just going after places where there's abuse, that's saying we're cutting the rates. Some 15 percent of hospitals and nursing homes say they won't take any more Medicare patients under that scenario.


BLITZER: All right. Let's go back to Erin.

Erin, what did you make of that?

BURNETT: All right. There was some real frustration here. When we were all talking earlier I think you all can agree, we said when they got negative, everybody said, oh, gosh, I hated this, I hated that? Fair description? OK. Fair description.

Let me just ask Chris (INAUDIBLE) here. You were frustrated when we just heard Romney talking about the $716 billion. That got to you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It got to me because it was like that was the only figure he continually threw out. And it was like, for me, as someone who -- I have a small business, and I don't have health insurance anymore because I just turned 26, so luckily I was able to be on my parents' insurance for so long. Yet you're throwing out this figure of this number that's going to affect me at some point, but you're saying it only - you know, because you have a number to give from President Obama as opposed to I really don't have a figure to get from you because you've been working on state level and not federal.

BURNETT: So it's frustration there. And I also wanted to come over here quickly to Carroll Ward. You're a teacher. And there you. Take a hold of that. You were frustrated when Barack Obama was attacking Mitt Romney there.

CARROLL WARD, TEACHER: Yes, I was frustrated because the president just really didn't seem to listen to Romney when he was giving his plan, and he just kept sticking on that $5 trillion and the $2 trillion, and not listening is one of the biggest things that is a problem in this debate and in this election.

BURNETT: One final thing I wanted to just make a point here, Wolf, that everyone here felt. How many of you felt -- I'll just walk out here, felt that you wished you got even more information from these candidates, that they didn't fully answer the questions. I mean everybody.

And that's something that stood out here and people were saying afterward they wanted more information from the candidates. So I think that's something that stands out.

A final point for all of you here. How many of you are -- changed your mind as a result of this debate? There were a few people that did. And I have to say, overall, Wolf, when you look at the winner, your heart is saying most people still come out of this undecided, but five now here thought Barack Obama was the clear winner, and 16 thought Mitt Romney was the clear winner of the debate.

Back to you.

BLITZER: Let me just -- if we do a show of hands, ask them -- I don't know if they can hear me, Erin. Asked them to raise their hands if they are now inclined to vote for Mitt Romney and then ask them a show of hands who's inclined to vote for the president of the United States.

BURNETT: I would like to do that, but I promised them I wouldn't, Wolf, because I didn't want to put their faces on camera associated with an actual person or a vote. But I can tell you that at the end of this, eight of them now say that they are going to be switching from before, into the camp of Barack Obama and eight of them said they were going to switch into the camp of Mitt Romney.

So when it comes to the actual vote it appears even there, even though obviously in terms of who is a clear winner, it did sway in favor of Mitt Romney.

BLITZER: Interesting. All right. Thanks very much.


BLITZER: And when Erin makes a promise, she delivers, there's no doubt about that.


BLITZER: All right. Erin, thanks very much.


BLITZER: And thousands of you went to our Facebook page to grade the candidates. We'll have the results. They may surprise you. When we come back.

Also we're going to replay the debate in its entirety.


BLITZER: And thanks to all of you who went to our Facebook page to weigh in on the debate. More than 28,000 people graded the candidates. Look at this. Both candidates got an A. By the way the second place choice for both men was an F.

COOPER: Interesting results. It's been a fascinating evening. The next debate is the vice presidential debate on Thursday, October 11th. The next presidential debate is on Tuesday, October 16th moderated by CNN's Candy Crowley.

Hey, nice glasses.

BLITZER: Nice glasses. I like your glasses as well.

COOPER: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: Up next, an encore presentation of tonight's debate.

Excellent glasses. Very good. I like those glasses.