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Obama Camp Moves Forward; Game-Changing Debates; Health Care Debate, Fact or Fiction

Aired October 4, 2012 - 11:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, ANCHOR, "CNN NEWSROOM": No time for them this morning, but I will read each and every one.

I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me.

"CNN Newsroom" continues right now with Ashleigh Banfield.


Hello, everyone. I'm Ashleigh and it is 11:00 on the East Coast, 8:00 on the West Coast. Good morning to you, California!

How about that debate last night? If you didn't catch that long- awaited first-ever head-to-head matchup between president and his Republican challenger, the Obama camp is probably somewhat grateful that you didn't.

But if you did catch it, you may not be surprised by numbers like these. Two-thirds of debate watchers polled by CNN and ORC believe that Mitt Romney bested the president. That is the biggest win of any presidential debater since we first started asking the questions of that back in 1984.

And check out this number. Eighty-two percent said that Mitt Romney did better than they expected, but only 1-in-10 said that he did worse.

And as for the president's performance, 6-in-10 say that he did worse than expected. Just 2-in-10 said that he actually did better.

CNN's Dana Bash joins me now with more about the stats and the sound bites and, to borrow a line from our friend and our colleague, James Carville, the president wanted a conversation, but Mitt Romney showed up with a chainsaw.

How are things going within the various camps today and how is everybody breaking this down, the narrative today?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The narrative today is simply that, you know, going into yesterday, there were Republicans talking about maybe it's time to put resources towards getting the Senate back in Congress and, you know, some people leaving Romney for political dead. That is not the narrative today. Does the fact that Mitt Romney did exceptionally well last night, particularly up against President Obama who just kind of not -- didn't seem like he was there, does that change voters minds?

You know, that's really unclear at this point, but what is clear is, when it comes to the fuel that keeps a campaign like Mitt Romney's going, whether it's activists, grassroots voters, donors, those are the people who are excited and especially going into the last five weeks of the campaign. Mitt Romney needs that big time.

BANFIELD: So, Dana, I'm not sure how much this plays into everything, but when Barack Obama is on the campaign stump, some of the things that he uses are very effective with the audience. He gets a lot of feedback from that campaign stump.

And when he brought that game into that auditorium last night and started to talk about things like, you know, ending tax breaks and trying to get people back to work, it seemed like those things backfired with a very powerful Mitt Romney standing next to him.

Let me show you exactly what I mean and I want to ask you about it on the other side.


PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Part of the way to do is to not give tax breaks to companies that are shipping shops overseas.

Right now, you can actually take a deduction for moving a plant overseas. I think most Americans would say that doesn't make sense and all of that raises revenue.

MITT ROMNEY, REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: You said you debt a deduction for taking a plant overseas? Look, I've been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you're talking about.

I maybe need to get a new accountant, but the idea that you get a break for shipping jobs overseas is simply not the case.

What we do have right now is a setting where I'd like to bring money from overseas back to this country.


BANFIELD: So, Dana, if he was trying to, you know, articulate some good policy there, it seemed like he just kept getting smacked down. Whereas on the campaign trail, he's not getting the smack-downs.

BASH: You know, what you just played was so instructive, I think, for two reasons. One, on the substance, what you're speaking to, that President Obama just did not make his point as articulately as he normally does or he could have in that setting.

But, also, when it comes to style, you saw President Obama talking to the crowd, talking to the people at home. Mitt Romney talked right to President Obama, addressed him by name as Mr. President. That was a very deliberative thing and deliberate thing that Mitt Romney did. No question that's something that he practiced.

You know, we know that he spent countless hours of practicing and prepping and it just sort of shows you that it's not just what people say or don't say in these debates, it's how they say it. It's their body language. It's the way they look and that is absolutely critical to the overall feel.

You know, I've been talking a lot and looking at this debate a lot, especially the morning after, and it's pretty clear that there wasn't necessarily a win or a loss because of a zinger. It was the overall feel that Mitt Romney was really present and President Obama really wasn't.

BANFIELD: All right, Dana Bash, I have your assignment from here going forwards and that is that 47 percent of folks asked -- said the debate did not influence their vote one way or another, so you have something to work with coming out of this.

Dana, thanks.

So, before the dust even settles from this first presidential debate, there were a lot of pundits weighing in and already telling us exactly who won.


DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The American people thought that the president would win this first debate and he lost. Mitt Romney came prepared to play. He drove the debate. I sense the president has never been talked to like this over the last four years.

JOHN KING, CNN 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, you could say, remarks about Obama supporters. He never mentioned Bain Capital.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think he was off his game tonight. President Obama came there. He wanted to have a conversation. Takes two people to have a conversation. Mitt Romney came there with a chainsaw and he's trying talk to a chainsaw.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, "HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS": Where was Obama right now? Romney, I love the split screen, staring at Obama, addressing him like the prey. He did it just right. I'm coming at an incumbent. I've got to beat him. You've got to beat the champ and I'm going to beat him tonight.


BANFIELD: That's Matthews and Carville saying these things, but there you have it. Those five pundits and a slew of others, all agreeing that President Obama stumbled and badly at last night's debate. And for Obama supporters, the big question this morning is, what the heck just happened? Can you chalk this up to the fact that the incumbent often does not perform well in the first debate? That's just a fact. The incumbent does not often perform well in the first debate.

Remember how badly George Bush came off in the first debate with John Kerry in '04? In fact, all of the debates being in John Kerry's favor back in '04.

Was it just that perhaps President Obama wasn't prepared? He was busy being prepared and campaigning. Did he perhaps let the prep slide? Did he go into the debate with a game plan that the best offense is a good defense?

And, finally, can Barack Obama get back into a winning mode? The polls were looking good going into this, right? You got two remaining debates with Romney.

We're going to get some answers and some perspective from "New York Times" op-ed columnist, Charles Blow. He joins us from our New York studio.

So, I know how you feel about this. I read your column, but give me the real quick one-liner on how you thought last night went?

CHARLES BLOW, "THE NEW YORK TIMES" VISUAL OP-ED COLUMNIST: Well, Obama lost that one. I mean, I played basketball all through high school. Sometimes you don't show up in the best form. You're not in your game. You're not in the zone. You lose it.

It doesn't mean you lose the election. It doesn't mean the other guy's better. It just means that you didn't show up that night. You didn't do a good job.

Go back, look at the tape, practice hard, come back the next time and you do a better job the next time.

BANFIELD: Yeah, he let himself be interrupted. He didn't call out certain kinds of issues when Mitt Romney was able to just sort of walk through him and lay out a slew of stats.

Is this a case ...

BLOW: Don't call those facts, though. Don't call ...

BANFIELD: Stats. I said stats.

BLOW: Don't call what Mitt Romney was saying facts.

BANFIELD: I'm always cautious of what both of these guys say because fact checkers hit both of them pretty hard, but, Charles, is this a question of the president who's trying to remain presidential and elegant and eloquent?

And that didn't work, like, you know, like we heard. You've got to bring a chainsaw to this kind of thing.

BLOW: That seemed to be his strategy. You know, kind of stay above the fray., look presidential, talk directly to the American people and don't get into a fight with Mitt Romney on stage.

But you have to -- I think you have to be a little bit more nimble than that. If the moderator does not step in and say, Mr. Romney, that's just not true what you just said, come back and ask follow-up questions.

If that's not going to happen, what is then your game plan? If Mitt Romney becomes much more aggressive, does not stick his foot in his mouth, which he tends to do and he doesn't do that in this time, what do you do in that?

You have to have all of those contingencies and be nimble enough to be able to react to all of that. That didn't seem to happen last night for Barack Obama. You know, he kept kind of talking to the American people, talking into the camera.

And I can only assume, hoping that, you know, the fact check after the fact would do the kind of -- the heavy lifting of saying, these things are not true that Mr. Romney said. That is not the way to do that.

BANFIELD: We've got our own fact-checking segment coming up. I'm glad you promo'ed it for me.

Charles, real quickly, as I was reading your column this morning, I spent five years at Court TV, so I love a good court case and you happened to mention that this kind of thing needs to be a closing argument. It needs to be a moving summation. It doesn't need to be sort of this layout of evidence when it comes to a debate.

So where was the aggressive and passionate Barack Obama that you see on the campaign trail? Does he need to bring it at the next two debates? Or does he need to keep slow and steady -- it wins the race?

BLOW: Well, it all depends, right? So, if Mitt Romney shows up and makes mistakes and a lot of gaffes, then slow and steady looks really good.

If Mitt Romney shows up like he did last night, throws spaghetti against the wall, sees what -- to see what sticks, a lot of numbers, they lose you in numbers. You know that some of those numbers are not true.

You know the sum of what he's saying is not true and, yet, you let him get away with that. You let him interrupt you when you're making your point. Yet, you let him on several occasions during this debate basically call you a liar and you never respond in kind.

BANFIELD: Some of that spaghetti you're talking about, you know, the arsenal of spaghetti that Barack Obama could have had was, you know, Mitt Romney, you talked about 47 percent of people being on some kind of welfare and being victims here. He didn't attack him on Bain, which is the favorite of the campaign ads. It's the staple. He didn't attack him on releasing his tax returns. These are all things in the Democrats' arsenal.

Why didn't that come out? Was that accidental or was it intentional?

BLOW: I have no idea. If you could tell me, I would be really happy. People have been stopping me the street this morning, trying to ask me what happened to Barack Obama?

Barack Obama has a chest full of ammunition to use against Mitt Romney.

BANFIELD: As does Romney.

BLOW: As does Romney, but Romney was using what he had to whatever effect he could use it. What people were expecting was for Barack Obama to respond in kind.

If you are being attacked, if you see somebody getting beat up on the side of the street and the guy doesn't fight back, you go, wow, that's just sad. Like this guy just got beat up. Why wouldn't he fight back? Why wouldn't he try to protect himself?


BLOW: Barack Obama was getting beat up and he could have defended himself. It would have been a huge mistake for people to assume that Barack Obama is not effective at being able to communicate. He is very effective.

So, knowing that and watching him not do what you know he is capable of doing was a very strange thing for most Americans to see.

BANFIELD: Got to wrap up there.

Charles Blow, great of you to come in. Thanks very much.

And, again, just want to reiterate, doesn't matter how you feel about it. They both have attacks in their chests. If they're not using them, it's a debate. It's a battle.

Charles, thanks so much.

BLOW: There you go.

BANFIELD: And, by the way, big reminder to you. If you fell asleep, if you forgot, if you were watching baseball because that was pretty good, too, the presidential debate is going to rerun right here on CNN today, in fact, at 1:00 Eastern in less than two hours.

So, you can catch it right again. It's good stuff. Be a good voter. Watch this stuff. It's really important.

Back in a moment.


BANFIELD: Love that music. I'm just nerdy that way.

It dominated practically half of the presidential debate, the economy. It's issue number one for the voters. Really, the polls tell us by a landslide, but there was a whole heck of a lot of back and forth on those jobs numbers and even more on the ups-and-downs of the economy, which is why we are going to do a little reality check on both President Obama and Mitt Romney.

CNN's Tom Foreman, the best in the biz at this, is fact-checking all of those claims that they threw your way last night.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The dominant issue of this entire campaign has been jobs, jobs, jobs. We've heard it over and over again and that is the very first subject that both of the candidates tore into in this debate.

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 in the last four years. It's absolutely extraordinary. We've got 23 million people out of work.

FOREMAN: This is the fundamental claim. Barack Obama says he's created 5 million jobs. Mitt Romney says not so much. Let's look at the evidence and see what we can find.

This is what the country looked like in 2009, Barack Obama's first full year in office. Every state that looks brown out here is a state where they were losing jobs at the time, some of them very badly. Look at Ohio over here, 10.6 percent unemployment.

But gradually over the next few years, we saw some jobs come on in education and in health care and in business services and retail and, now, look where we are today. Every state that is lighter in color is where they're either no longer losing jobs or, in most cases, gaining jobs.

Ohio, 7.2 percent unemployment now, that's better than the national average.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says to make that happen, we, indeed, had to create a lot of jobs. How many? By their count, 4.4 million so far, but here's what's not mentioned much. Four-point-three million were lost during the bad days, so the net gain was only about 125,000 jobs.

That falls short of the president's claim that he created 5 million jobs. It's just a little bit too much of a stretch. We have to call that claim false, even though many Democrats will say in a heartbeat, look, he inherited a bad economy from George Bush. Many voters agree with that. Nonetheless, the numbers don't quite add up.

What about Mitt Romney's claim about 23 million people unemployed, though? But we need some context to consider that. Let me bring some tools up here and talk about this some.

Median income in this country is about $51,000, so here's some categories that we could look at -- low-wage jobs, mid-wage, high- wages. This is most of the people in the country are making right now.

If you look at this and you consider what happened during the recession, look, everyone lost jobs, but the low-wage jobs did not lose as much as the mid-wage and high-wage and, when the jobs came back or started coming back, look what happened. The low-wage rose the most.

So, among the jobs we lost or we gained, basically, we lost better jobs than what we regained. You have to consider that if you want to even come close to Mitt Romney's number of 23 million because he's counting everyone who's unemployed, everyone who's given up on looking for work, everyone who's underemployed in this fashion, everybody who's part-time who would like to be full-time.

In all actuality, although that adds up to about 23 million, he's really doing the same thing Barack Obama did. He's stretching the numbers to the point of breaking, so that's false, too.

So, let's just look at the overall question of real unemployment. Can Barack Obama be re-elected with the numbers he's facing? It is a tough, tough task. There's no question.

Look at all the presidents who have been reelected since the 1950s and the unemployment rates at that time. Over there you have Dwight Eisenhower, 4.1 percent; Richard Nixon, 5.6; Ronald Reagan, 7.5 -- that was considered huge at the time; Bill Clinton, 5.1; the second George Bush, 5.4; and Barack Obama over here with a whopping 8.1 percent unemployment.

This is the August numbers for all of these president before they were re-elected. It's very difficult for any president to carry a weight like that into a re-election campaign.

When Barack Obama was elected the first time, it was historic. If he's elected again, it will also be historic because no president has been elected with that kind of number, re-elected, since Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s, the waning days of the Great Depression.



BANFIELD: So, try wrapping your head around the avalanche of statistics and studies and numbers and facts thrown out last night, all in a 90-minute little period of time. For a lot of us, it's a lot to process, but when you are able to process it and digest those numbers, two very different economic ideologies emerge from all of that rhetoric.

That is why we hire Ali Velshi and that's why he comes to town, make sense of it all.

So, here's the deal. Big questions over the role of government when it comes to the economy. These two guys could not be further apart. Did they make their case clear last night?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was part of the debate I enjoyed the most, even though, really, I enjoyed the economic stuff. When it got to the role of government, Jim Lehrer asked that. I felt like they really did state their case.

And, really, Mitt Romney stated it well where he said he doesn't believe the federal government can do much that's better than the private sector can be left to do or that individuals can do and Barack Obama, you know, he started by saying the major role of government is keeping its people safe.

But that is a fundamental disagreement between conservatives and liberals. I think -- I don't know that too many people would have been confused about their answers or would have expected them to say something else, but I think it's important that your vote this time around is determined by what role you think government should have.

The key difference to remember is, in the last four years with the economic collapse, we live in a world, in a country, where 71 percent of economic decisions are directed by the American, by the voter, by the consumer.

When that drops, because of the fact that people don't have money and they don't have jobs, who fills in for it?

BANFIELD: The federal government.

VELSHI: And that's what some of the thinking is, that the government should play a bigger role in difficult economic times.

There are some conservatives who say, no, there are difficult economic times, people get unemployed, tax revenues go down, that's the way it is.

BANFIELD: Let the cycle complete.

VELSHI: Let the cycle complete and the problem with the cycle we're in right now is we don't actually know what happens when it completes, when there isn't any more government money.

BANFIELD: No template.

VELSHI: It was a good discussion, though. It was a hardy discussion and I think, yeah, I think they made their points clear.

BANFIELD: So, good and thorough.

All right, let me move on to something that happened nice and early and a lot of numbers ...

VELSHI: Big Bird?

BANFIELD: That wasn't early. That was just before I fell asleep.

VELSHI: Right.

BANFIELD: And I'm not going to talk about Big Bird with you because you're too smart for that. I want to talk $5 trillion in tax cuts.

President Obama repeated, over and over and over, this accusation and this criticism that Mitt Romney is going to cut taxes by $5 trillion and Mitt Romney kept coming back and saying, basically what are you talking about?

They're more articulate than I, so have a listen.


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

ROMNEY: I'm not in favor of a $5 trillion tax cut. That's not my plan. My plan is not to put in place any tax cut that will add to the deficit.


BANFIELD: All right, Ali Velshi, whose pants are on fire?

VELSHI: There were two distinct points here. One is the $4.9 trillion is the real number. President Obama called it $5 trillion. It's -- there are going to be tax cuts because Mitt Romney proposes to cut 20 percent off of everybody's taxes, across the board.

BANFIELD: That's not$ 5 trillion, though.

VELSHI: Right, but it does over 10 years actually add up to 4.9, if he does it. That's the number that the president was citing.

Now, that assumes that there's no revenue coming from anywhere else. Mitt Romney says that's not the right assumption because, if I cut taxes across the board, it will put more money into people's pockets, they will spend more so that people will actually pay a lower tax rate than they currently pay, but they'll have more jobs, they'll have more money ...

BANFIELD: Stimulate the economy.

VELSHI: ... stimulate the economy and the government ...

BANFIELD: More money will come in.

VELSHI: ... will end up with more money. So, that's where the disagreement was.

BANFIELD: And what about, also, Mitt Romney does have some plans for cutting loopholes and some of these write-offs.

VELSHI: Right. So, he says, we cut taxes, we close loopholes, it becomes revenue neutral and then President Obama cited another study that says it's not revenue neutral. You'll have to raise taxes on the middle class.

That's why this becomes so hard to fact check one of these because they're both sort of saying things that are kind of true.

BANFIELD: Let me switch you over to jobs because -- and this doesn't have to do with the debate necessarily last night, but it's critical.

We've got that big monthly jobs report tomorrow. We've already got some indicators. Walk me through it.

VELSHI: Yeah, so, we have two indicators. One is the ADP, which is a private sector report, which historically has given you some indication of what's going to go on two days later. That showed a big bump in private sector growth.

But for the last couple of months, it hasn't matched what happens on the unemployment report.

Then we had unemployment claims today. So, last week, the number of people who first lined up for unemployment claims actually went up a tick.

So the fact is that we're looking at about 110-to-115,000 jobs. That's what economists predict on Friday. That's the number for September.

Last month, as you know, was 96,000. It was a big disappointment.

I think, we come in on a 100-plus, President Obama breathes a sigh of relief. We come in a 100 or lower, he is going to start worrying and the Republicans will go on the attack.

BANFIELD: And you know a sigh of relief doesn't mean everybody else's is going to have that.

VELSHI: Well, and for those people who don't have jobs, it doesn't mean much.

BANFIELD: You have a job tomorrow. Busy? Do you have a show?

VELSHI: Yeah. I'm going to be busy. Yeah, absolutely.

BANFIELD: All right, Ali Velshi, thank you. Always good to see you and nice to see you in person, I might add, too. Be sure to make sure you watch tomorrow morning because, when those numbers come in, we are going to go to town. We are going to take a very close-up look at the jobs being created around the country, the implications for the election, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Back after this.


BANFIELD: Of those who watched last night's debate, just one in four said that President Obama won the face-off. But do not tell that to his camp because his camp is insisting that their candidate did the better job. But as they continue to spin this, they are surrounded this morning by a chorus, and it is large and it is loud, of people who just simply thought otherwise, including loads of Democrats. So is the Obama camp hearing all of the noise from those boxes and many other boxes? Are they scrambling for a hangover cure or, instead, is this the strategy, "slow and steady wins the race."

Our Jessica Yellin is with president today as his campaign moves forward. She is at an event as we continue to hear the campaign.

Jessica, what is the reaction? Is the spin going to continue or are they going to tailor and re-tailor quickly.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The spin will continue, Ashleigh. But I think their reaction so far is pretty defensive and frustrated. I frankly have not heard his campaign surrogates defend the president's performance. Instead, they say things like one night's performance doesn't matter that much and they focus and pivot to attacking Mitt Romney, arguing he was not honest in his answers. So I think what you're going to hear from the campaign is drilling down on what Mitt Romney said, trying to turn the focus on Romney and his, quote, "truthfulness," but that is not a defense of the president's performance and an implicit acknowledgment he essentially wasn't that strong -- Ashleigh?

BANFIELD: Let me play for you a comment that was made by Jen Psaki, who is his campaign press secretary, because this defense was one of the most strident, I think I heard post-debate, where she essentially says, no way, this was a fabulous job. Let her say it and I want to ask you something on the other side.


JEN PSAKI, OBAMA CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think the American people make a judgment on who they are going to vote for by a poll coming out of a debate. They are not looking for an attacker-in- chief, which is what Mitt Romney was last night. They are looking for a commander-in-chief. The president's calm delivered performance and him laying out his policies and where he wanted to move the country forward.


BANFIELD: So, Jessica, the question I have for you bounces off a guest I had on earlier, Charles Blow from "The New York Times," who said, "The Obama campaign must learn from this blunder, stronger is better." Are they not listen to some of their -- some of the criticism out there comes from Democrats, it comes from columnists, it comes from Republicans. Are they not listening that it's nonbiased at this particular time.

YELLIN: This is a difference what outsiders are saying and what the inside campaigner strategists believe. Inside the campaign, they believe undecided voters who were at home who were watching the debate do not want to see the president go on the attack, and that they did not want to see an angry combative event last night. And one of the reasons you didn't see the president rise up and try to joust with Mitt Romney.

The problem is he is the commander-in-chief. He has to defend his record and what we saw last night was performance that seemed a president who didn't seem ready and willing to defend his record. And so Charles Blow's point was he's got to stand up and fight a bit more. Ashleigh, I expect, in the next two weeks, I predict he will be doing that.

BANFIELD: There is no rest for the weary. You're live in Denver, where things wrapped up last night, and where the campaign clearly continues very loudly behind you.

Jessica Yellin, thank you very much.

By the way, stay with us. We have got lots of campaign coverage continuing. The rally in Denver, just past the top of the hour, we'll bring that to you live as well and replay the debate at 1:00 eastern right here on CNN.

Back after this.


BANFIELD: Last night's debate is the talk today because, everywhere you turn, voters and analysts, weighing in on which candidate they think came out on top. But it was just one debate. Right? In a much bigger campaign, there is still two more presidential debates to go. So can one debate alone change the minds of voters, a change that sticks?

John King decided to take a look at just that, the trending. Here is an example of one that actually did just that.


JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's go back in history and take a look, Wolf. Let's start with 1980. Watch the Carter-Reagan race play out in the polls right here. This was their one and only debate. If we look at it, Ronald Reagan had come from behind and actually moved slightly ahead of Jimmy Carter. The question was, was he up to it? What this actor ready to be president? A lot of people think this sealed the deal. RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Are you better off than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was?

KING: Ronald Reagan sealing the deal in his bid against Jimmy Carter.


BANFIELD: There you go. Pretty fascinating stuff when you see if on the line graph.

For all their differences in substance and temperament and philosophy, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney clearly have one thing in common -- neither of these men likes to be muzzled.


OBAMA: The last point I'd make before --


JIM LEHRER, DEBATE MODERATOR: The two minutes is up, sir.

OBAMA: No. I think I had five seconds before you interrupted me. Was --


ROMNEY: Jim, the president began this segment so I think I get the last word. So I --

LEHRER: No. You get the first word in the next segment.

ROMNEY: But he gets the first word of that segment and I get the last word of that segment. Let me make this comment.


BANFIELD: The president actually spoke four minutes longer than his opponent did last night but they don't give prizes away for that.

Joining me with what the stuff matters is the mainstay of CNN's political coverage is Wolf Blitzer, a man who doesn't sleep.

Hi, Wolf. We've seen all the polls. We've heard the pundits. This has to be a moment in politic where Team Obama is corralling and saying, is this the right strategy, given what happened last night?

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: Well, it clearly was the wrong strategy for the president last night. He had plenty of opportunities to go on the offensive and try to score some political points. And that's what a debate tries to do, you show off your strength and underline the weaknesses of your opponent. But some of the most impressive lines that he's had out of the campaign trail, he ignored last night, which was inexplicable to me and many of his supporters. We didn't hear him once refer to the 47 percent and we didn't hear him talk about the Cayman Islands, bank accounts, Swiss bank accounts. We didn't hear him talk about Mitt Romney's taxes, only paying 14 percent in income over these many years, refusing to release 20 years of income tax returns. So many of the things that the president keeps -- and his campaign --underlining in their advertising in the battleground states against Mitt Romney, he was silent on. I don't understand that. And I'm sure a lot of his supporters don't understand that as well. He's got a lot of work to do to get ready for the next debate.

BANFIELD: Speaking of work, yes, he's got some practice clearly. It's now a blur, and I almost forgot how many primary debates that were in the Republican primary, but going back, it's 22! Mitt Romney had 22 bites at this apple before coming to that podium last night. So is this a case of "practice really is critical"?


BANFIELD: Even if you're an eloquent public speaker like the president is?

BLITZER: Right. Practice is very important, whether you're a tennis player or a cellist, you got to practice. If you want to be a good debater you have to practice. Clearly, the sessions the president had with John Kerry filling in for Mitt Romney and his team of advisers, they didn't do the job for him. They didn't serve the president well, clearly, because he wasn't ready for that debate last night. As I was watching it like anyone else watching it, I was saying to myself, why isn't he going on the offensive?

I moderated four Obama debates in the last cycle four years ago including one-on-one debate at the Kodak Theater with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, one of their last debates before he won the Democratic presidential nomination. You know, he wasn't a fabulous debater but he was solid, and when he had to, he went after her and he went after John Edwards and the other Democratic candidates. But over the past four years he has been president and clearly not involved in these kinds of debates and his advisers should have been better prepared. They have worked with him more to get ready and they have studied.

Mitt Romney was a very good debater and I did three debates this time where he really undermined Rick Perry or Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich. He knew how to do it. He did it well. And that clearly was underlined last night as well.

BANFIELD: With roughly 30 percent of voters going to the polls early, they better hope they are not going to the polls today in the early voting --


BANFIELD: Not going to the polls. Doing the early voting. BLITZER: There's still two more presidential debates and a vice presidential debates. Last week, after the conventions, a lot of pundits were suggesting it was over and the president would be reelection. The flip side of that is, look, there's plenty of time, four and a half weeks, a lot can change, and a lot presumably will change.

BANFIELD: All right.

BLITZER: So this is by no means over. It's going to the wire in Florida and Ohio and Virginia.

BANFIELD: Wolf, you have a busy year ahead.

Wolf Blitzer in Washington. Thank you, as always.

BLITZER: Thank you.

BANFIELD: And as we always do, we'd like to invite you to tune in Wolf's program, "The Situation Room," 4:00 p.m. eastern only here on CNN.



ROMNEY: Obama-care is on my list. I apologize, Mr. President. I love that term with all respect.

OBAMA: I like it.

If you reveal Obama-care -- and I have become fond of this term, Obama-care.



BANFIELD: Well, his critics actually coined the phrase to imply that Obama was socializing health care. But as you heard, President Obama is embracing and even owning the phrase "Obama-care." It was just a glimpse at President Obama and Mitt Romney's battle over health care last night but it got a lot deeper than that. Obama-care and Medicare and Medicaid and private insurance and preexisting conditions and lions and tigers and bears, all of it fair game on the debate floor.


ROMNEY: No change for current retirees and retirees to Medicare, and the president supports taking $716 billion out of that program.

OBAMA: The voucher wouldn't necessarily keep up with health care inflation. It was estimated that this would cost the average consumer $6,000 a year.

ROMNEY: when you look at Obama-care, the Congressional Budget Office has said it will cost $2,500 a year more than traditional insurance.

OBAMA: Every study has shown that Medicare has lower administrative costs than private insurance does.


BANFIELD: It makes your head spin, especially since it came late in the debate. Sifting through all of that is a mixed bag of truths, exaggerations, rhetoric, and I hate to say it, big lies.

Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is here to break down the fact from the fiction.

Let's start with this. Help me sort through the biggest claim I kept hearing, and I kept hearing it leading up to the debate -- $716 billion. He is going to gut it and take it and steal it. What is the real story behind the $716 billion?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: OK. So Romney says that Obama-care cut $716 billion out of Medicare and that seniors will suffer because of it. So one man's cut is another man's savings. Obama says, no, no, I'm saving $716 billion. That's a good thing. That makes this a much more affordable plan as time goes on. And he says this $716 billion is spread out over 10 years. And the hospitals will feel it instead of -- and excuse my hand here -- but instead of the rate of growth, payments go up like this, it would go up like this.

BANFIELD: Nice graphics.


COHEN: We didn't have a real one, so I did it on my own.


He is saying beneficiaries, seniors won't feel the cuts, hospitals will. Romney and others say, if hospitals are spending less money on seniors, they will feel it eventually. It's impossible to know who is right about this because it hasn't happened yet.

BANFIELD: Makes sense to me. The other claim is Mitt Romney suggesting that his plan for medicine includes some of the more popular parts of Obama-care, particularly the preexisting conditions. But is that true? How much of what he says, when he says, look, my plan incorporates the best stuff of Obama's but not the worst, how much is true?

COHEN: First of all, it makes people say, well, if you're incorporating the goodies, who is paying for the goodies? He is saying we will cover people with preexisting conditions but we're not going to do the nasty stuff people don't like to pay for. Some people have raised that question.

But he's what he's said about preexisting conditions. He said, look, when people with preexisting conditions go out and buy insurance on their own, not through their employer but on their own, they are now told no or charge some ridiculous amount of money because no one wants to insure them. They are expensive. He says, I will protect you and make sure you get affordable insurance, with one caveat -- if you can prove you have had continuous insurance coverage in the past. If you can show you've had -- hand again. If you can show that you've had continuous insurance coverage in the past. But I asked his spokesperson, what does that mean? You have to have had it since you were born? You have to have it for 10 years, five year?


COHEN: How long has that passed? They didn't answer my question. If it was a long past, that could be a problem no for some people.

BANFIELD: Get me to the next nugget. A government board is going to make all sorts of decisions regarding the treatments that you can have under Obama-care. That is the claim from Mitt Romney. Is that true? A government board will actually make decisions? Because the Obama camp says, just not true at all.

COHEN: Right. This is called the Independent Payment Advisory Board. And Romney kind of makes it sound like Uncle Sam is going to come into your hospital room or this is only seniors. So enter Mrs. Smith's hospital room, and says, Mrs. Smith, I know your doctor says you need a hip replacement, but I'm government, and I say you do not. This is not what this board is going to be. Let me tell you what it is going to be. If Medicare payments start getting crazy and high and out of hand, this board will sit down and say, are we overpaying for certain kinds of procedures? Are we letting hospitals charge us way too much money for, let's say, a routine hip replacement? And if they are, if they're charging us too much money -- let's say they're charging us -- just to be silly -- $100 for hip replacements, maybe we'll only pay them $95, or whatever number. So this board will sit there and review whether certain procedures are just -- whether the government has been overcharged or not.

BANFIELD: You were there. You were watching it last night, debunking it all night like the rest of the CNN staff.

Elizabeth, thank you.

COHEN: Thank you.

BANFIELD: By the way, you can watch the replay. You can see it all for yourself, how it played out, au natural. The presidential debate right here on CNN, 1:00 eastern. That's a little more than an hour from now.


BANFIELD: Last night's presidential debate was viewed by conservatively 50 million viewers. People, like me, on TV would really like to think that this is the only place people get their news. Come on. If we needed a reminder, Facebook today said it had passed the one billion active-viewer mark. And the tweets and Googles and YouTubes, let's not forget all those. But what was being Googled the most last night? The number-one search, Simpson-Bowles; number two, Dodd-Frank; number three, who is winning the debate. But look at number four, Big Bird. I'm going to stop right there, not to explain Simpson-Bowles or Dodd-Frank, but to explain Big Bird. It might have been the moment of the debate. Listen to what Mitt Romney said and then the YouTube reaction to it.


ROMNEY: 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. I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. And I like PBS. And I love Big Bird. I actually like you too, but I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.




BANFIELD: OK, the last part definitely doctored. We're just guessing that.

But fake Big Bird got right onto Twitter onto time. By this morning, Big Bird had almost 25,000 followers.

Look what Big Bird has been tweeting out. "I like being able to fire people and large talking birds, Mitt Romney."

"47 percent of Chick-fil-A chickens think they're victims. I will never convince them to take personal responsibility."

"Birds of a feather collect food stamps together. Mitt Romney."

"I'm about to fly south for the tax season. Cayman Islands-bound, hash tag."

"Breaking news, Donald Trump demand's to see Big Bird hatched-eggs' certificate."

Big Bird is now trending big on social media. Just take a look at some of the Photoshops that we've pulled up from the Internet, and there are hundreds. That's my favorite right there. We had to cut off the expletive at the bottom. The mentions of Big Bird increased by nearly 800,000 percent after Mitt Romney's comment last night. And it is also the next most popular term on Facebook after Romney, Obama, and debate. "Occupy Sesame Street." Some are even hoping for a Big Bird run in 2016. It's actually pretty darn funny, if you have a chance to go to the Internet, the big series of Tubes. Make sure you do that.

While the Big Bird controversy rages, PBS president and CEO, Paula Kerger, spoke to CNN's Carol Costello earlier this morning and she responded to Mitt Romney's plan to withdraw funding for PBS. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAULA KERGER, PRESIDENT & CEO, PBS: The problems facing our country, the fact that we are the focus is just unbelievable to me. Particularly given the fact that, you know, in another part of the debate, the -- both candidates talked about the importance of education. We're America's biggest classroom. We touch children across the country in every home. Whether you have books in your home or computer or not, almost everyone has a television set. So we're able to bring kids across the country, not just enjoyable programming, but programs that really help them prepare and get ready for school with core curriculum in math and science and literacy. So the fact that we're in this debate -- this is not about the budget. It has to be about politics.

BANFIELD: Well, there's that.

We're fresh out of time. Thanks so much for watching, everybody NEWSROOM INTERNATIONAL begins right after this break.