DENVER (AP) - Primed for a showdown, President Barack Obama accused Republican rival Mitt Romney in campaign debate Wednesday night of wanting to "double down on the top-down policies" that led to a devastating economic downturn four years ago. Countered the challenger: "That's not what I'm going to do."
Romney rebutted the president from a few feet away on the stage of their first debate, declaring that under Obama's policies "middle income families are being crushed."
The clash took place in the opening moments of a national televised debate before tens of millions of voters with the power to settle the 2012 race for the White House -- a campaign that polls suggest tilts Obama's way despite lingering high unemployment and only sluggish economic growth.
Romney and Obama also tangled over taxes. Romney claims Obama has mischaracterized his tax plan by calling it a $5 trillion tax cut. Obama responded that Romney appears to be backing away from his own plan.
Romney says "everything" Obama said about Romney's tax plan is inaccurate. Most importantly, Romney says his plan will not increase taxes for the middle class as Obama contends.
Romney says his plan is to provide tax relief by lowering them for all Americans, while eliminating deductions and exemptions in the tax code.
Romney says, "I will lower taxes on middle income families."
Obama retorts that Romney appears to be saying "never mind" about his own tax plan. Obama says he will lower taxes for middle-class families.
Obama says that Romney's tax agenda would not reduce the deficit. He says it would include a massive tax cut for the wealthy and more military spending.
The president is citing former President Bill Clinton, suggesting the nation should return to the Clinton-era tax rates he says would lead to economic growth.
Obama says simple "math" and "common sense" show Romney's approach is not a recipe for job growth.
The wonky tone of the debate was a stark contrast to the harsh, broad-brush and sometimes personal attacks the two men make in person and in multimillion-dollar television advertising. Obama made no mention of Romney's videotaped remark that 47 percent of the country doesn't pay income taxes and believe themselves to be victims, entitled to government benefits. And Romney did not repeat a key theme from his national convention, that Obama's "you didn't build that" statement was a putdown of American initiative.
The two presidential rivals also are scheduled to debate on Oct. 16 in Hempstead, N.Y., and Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.
Vice President Joe Biden and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin have one debate, Oct. 11 in Danville, Ky. Both men have already begun holding practice sessions.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.