Editor's note: This piece was originally published by our sister paper's news blog Latest Word on Denver Westword. It's written by Sam Levin, an editorial fellow who's been keeping tabs on both candidates in the swing state of Colorado for the past few months.
President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney squared off inside the University of Denver's Magness Arena last night, once again bringing the national spotlight to the Mile High City -- as the two candidates discussed the economy and the role of government in a surprisingly unstructured first presidential debate.
Romney and Obama -- who have both spent a lot of time in the past several months rallying Colorado voters -- frequently interrupted each other during the debate, and Jim Lehrer, the increasingly flustered moderator, often seemed unable to keep the conversation under control. This was especially true during several interactions the PBS NewsHour anchor had with Romney, who was particularly aggressive and confident during the debate -- with the president's deputy campaign manager even saying afterward that the Republican candidate "won on style."
The awkward interruptions and chaotic moments of the debate frequently got laughs and scoffs from inside the giant media filing room, where hundreds of reporters from all over the United States and beyond typed and Tweeted furiously during the 90-minute event.
Sam Levin From inside the media room
Here's an exchange toward the end of the event (access the full transcript here), during which Lehrer seemed to acknowledge that things had gotten a little out of hand:
"All right, gentlemen, listen," Lehrer said as Obama interrupts to try to get a word in.This kind of stumbling was common throughout the night. And the interruptions from Romney, who repeatedly continued speaking and attacking the president even after Lehrer requested they move on, reflected an overall level of comfort and poise that political experts -- and Romney fans -- say worked in his favor.
"Excuse me sir," Lehrer continued. "We've got barely... three minutes left. I'm not going to grade the two of you and say your answers have been too long or I've done a poor job."
"You've done a great job, Jim," the president interjected.
Lehrer continued, "Oh, well, no. But the fact is, government, the role of government and governing... So we only have three minutes left in the debate before we go to your closing statements. And so I want to ask finally here, and remember we've got three minutes total time here. And the question is this...
Much of the back and forth of the debate was characterized, unsurprisingly, by both sides arguing that they were being misrepresented by the opponent -- which in the case of some complex topics like health care and federal regulations created some rather dizzying, wonky policy disputes.
Continue for more about the view of the debate from the University of Denver media room.