by Ray Fleming

The Republican contender Mitt Romney was a clear winner of the first US presidential TV debate in Denver on Wednesday night. President Obama seemed tired and detached -- a shadow of the dynamic speech-maker of four years ago. The weekend polls will show whether Romney's very competent performance has halted his decline in key states where Obama had established a lead. In the president's defence it is being said that his planned strategy was to avoid an aggressive approach towards his opponent and to depend instead on his own record and intentions. It will be surprising if he continues in that way in the next debate on 16 October. Romney is vulnerable to attack on several well-established aspects of his campaign which Obama did not even touch on in Wednesday's exchanges.

One stood out very clearly -- Romney's repeated assertion that Obama plans to cut 716 billion dollars from Medicare provision. I counted eight direct references by Romney to this improbable Democrat policy, including one in his final summary remarks, but the president did not once challenge him on its accuracy. Yet yesterday the consensus among the fact-checkers in US media was that Romney's repeated claim cannot be substantiated -- it is wrong. Perhaps President Obama is keeping his powder dry for the two remaining debates closer to polling day on 6 November. He certainly needs to improve on Wednesday's lacklustre showing.

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