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Obama 'not at his best' as rival Romney hits out

Republican Mitt Romney accused Barack Obama of misrepresenting his positions, as the two candidates shared a stage for the first time in a high-stakes presidential debate.

With the long presidential campaign entering its final month, Romney needed a strong showing in the debate, as polls show him falling behind the president in what has been a tight race.

It is not clear what effect, if any, the debate will have. But Romney, often seen as wooden and lacking passion, seemed more at ease than Obama.

In a rare post-debate concession, some Democratic strategists not involved in the campaign conceded the president was not at his best and missed opportunities to challenge his rival.

Romney was clearly on the offensive, blaming Obama for the weak US economy -- the biggest issue in the campaign. "Going forward with the status quo is not going to cut it for the American people who are struggling today," Romney said.


He repeatedly accused Obama of misstating his positions, virtually lecturing him at one point after the president accused him of seeking to cut education funds. "Mr. President, you're entitled to your own airplane and your own house, but not your own facts."

Obama sparred back, accusing Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, of seeking to "double down" on economic policies that led to the devastating economic downturn four years ago.

Obama, a former legal scholar, seemed somewhat professorial at times. He avoided themes that his campaign has used against Romney, including criticism of Romney's private equity firm, Bain Capital, which the Democrat has demonised as a corporate predator.

More surprisingly, Obama made no reference to a widely publicised secret recording of Romney, in which he said that 47 percent of Americans view themselves as victims who depend on the government and refuse to take responsibility for their lives.

The debate, the first of three this month, had been widely anticipated. Polls showed that the public expected Obama, a gifted speaker, had an advantage over Romney, and Romney's campaign pushed that viewpoint to lower expectations for their candidate.


The candidates' answers reflected their general philosophical differences. Romney and fellow Republicans see the federal government as too big, taxing Americans excessively, running up deficits and hindering job creation through unnecessary regulations.

Obama and his fellow Democrats see government as a potential force for good, providing the infrastructure and education needed in a dynamic economy and giving even poor Americans the opportunity to succeed.