U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney came out of their corners swinging over the economy in the Denver debate dust-up Wednesday night.
And the post-debate consensus is an estimated 50 million viewers around the world watched Obama get spanked.
But there were no gaffes.
Instead, an oft long-winded Obama, with his characteristic drawn out "uhs" and "ands," seemed unprepared for a fiery Romney who challenged him time and time again on his portrayal of the Republican candidate's plan.
"Mr. President, you are entitled to your own plane and your own house, but not your own facts," Romney quipped during one exchange.
The first hour of the debate at the University of Denver focused on the economy, and Obama repeatedly accused Romney of favouring the rich with his tax plan.
Obama said Romney's plan to lower income taxes by 20% would cost the federal government $5 trillion in revenue that would leave the all important middle class holding the bag. But Romney denied the charge Wednesday, saying "virtually everything (Obama) just said about my tax plan is inaccurate."
"For 18 months, (Romney) has been running on this tax plan. Now, five weeks before the election, his big, bold idea is 'never mind'," Obama fired back. "Governor Romney has a perspective that says if we cut taxes skewed towards the wealthy and roll back regulations, that we’ll be better off. I’ve got a different view."
But Romney accused Obama of sticking with his plan for a bigger and bigger government that Republicans say has failed.
“The president has a view very similar to the one he had when he ran for office four years ago, that spending more, taxing more, regulating more, if you will, trickle-down government would work. That’s not the right answer for America,” Romney said. "‘‘The status quo is not going to cut it."
Wednesday's debate was moderated by PBS' Jim Lehrer and while Romney expressed his "love" for Big Bird and said he likes Lehrer, too, Romney vowed to stop subsidies to the public broadcaster.
The debate late pivoted to Obamacare, a term the president himself said he "liked" Wednesday night.
Obama praised Romney for health care reforms he brought in as Governor of Massachusetts, which many people -- Obama included -- say was in part a blueprint for Obama's Affordable Care Act.
Romney's reforms in the New England state included an individual mandate that forced citizens to buy health insurance, the main gripe of critics of Obamacare.
But Romney, who has vowed to repeal Obamacare, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in June, said it was different in his state because he had bi-partisan support for his reforms and health care should be state jurisdiction.
Starting Thursday, the campaign kicks off again with Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan stumping in the critical swing state of Virginia, while Vice-President Joe Biden will campaign for Obama in Iowa.
The president is holding a rally here in Colorado Thursday.
Next week, Biden and Ryan square off in the vice-presidential debate in Kentucky.
Obama and Romney will spar again in New York on Oct. 16, in the second of three presidential debates. The final debate is in Boca Raton, Florida at the end of the month.
A Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll on Wednesday showed Obama up among likely voters by 47% to 41%. A new NPR poll had Obama ahead 51% to 44% among likely voters.
Other surveys showed a tightening race, including an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released on Tuesday with Obama up by just 3 points among likely voters, at 49% to 46%.
-- With files from Reuters