Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama (R) speaks as Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, listens during the Presidential Debate at the University of Denver on October 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. / Getty
Updated 11:40 p.m. ET
After months of heated, sometimes nasty, campaigning, President Obama and Mitt Romney met in the same room on the same stage for the first time Wednesday night for the first of three debates, this one focusing specifically on the top issue on voters' minds: the economy.
At the University of Denver, in the battleground state of Colorado, moderator Jim Lehrer threw the first question to President Obama. Beyond the cordial, obligatory opening remarks, which included the president wishing his wife, Michelle, a happy 20th wedding anniversary and promising not to spend their next anniversary in front of "40 million people," the debate quickly turned to economic philosophy.
The opening remarks of both candidates attempted to define the other but also outlined their differing visions.
"Are we going to double-down on the top-down" economic plan that Romney proposes? the president asked, criticizing Romney for an economic plan that benefits the wealthy. "Or do we embrace a new economic patriotism?" he said, which he defined as an economic approach of shared sacrifice and a focus on the middle class.
Romney responded recounting a story of a young couple who is struggling and just lost their home. He said he "can help" such families, but it's "going to take a different path." He added, "The president has a view very similar to the view he had when he ran four years, that a bigger government, spending more, taxing more, regulating more -- if you will, trickle-down government -- would work."
Romney promised, if elected, to meet with Democrats on his first day as president to ensure he can get things done.
The president, however, mocked Romney's statement. "I think Governor Romney's going to have a busy first day, because he's also going to repeal 'Obamacare,' which will not be very popular among Democrats as you're sitting down with them," he quipped.
"And I've got to tell you, Governor Romney, when it comes to his own party during the course of this campaign, has not displayed that willingness to say no to some of the more extreme parts of his party," the president added.
Prior to the start of the debate, an Obama campaign aide said the president's aim is not to attack Romney but to "correct Romney's attacks as needed," adding that his "number one goal" is to lay out his plans for the next four years. The president partially stuck to that goal. He didn't attack Romney personally (as Romney didn't take personal shots at the president), but he attempted to define Romney's proposals, especially around the issues of Medicare and taxes.
The president, who appeared nervous at the beginning of the debate, hit a common theme he often addresses on the campaign trail, slamming Romney's tax plan for cutting taxes by $5 trillion dollars without defining how he would pay for it.
"How we pay for that, reduce the deficit, and make the investments that we need to make, without dumping those costs onto middle-class Americans, I think is one of the central questions of this campaign," the president said.
Romney quickly refuted the president's argument. "Virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate," Romney said. He added that his plan would cut taxes for the middle class, but wouldn't reduce the "share" of taxes high-income earners pay.
"High-income people are doing just fine in this economy. They'll do fine whether you're president or I am," Romney said. "I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans."
Mr. Obama chided, "Well, for 18 months he's been running on this tax plan. And now, five weeks before the election, he's saying that his big, bold idea is, 'never mind.'"
He also questioned Romney's mathematics saying, "[T]he fact is that if you are lowering the rates the way you described, 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. It's -- it's math. It's arithmetic."
After the president said Romney would cut education to pay for tax cuts, Romney responded, "Mr. President, you're entitled as the president to your own airplane and to your own house, but not to your own facts."
Romney said "the right course" for the country is to not be the economy's referee, but make the private sector "more efficient and more effective."