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Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney makes a point during the first debate with President Barack Obama last night in Denver, Colorado. (Reuters/Jason Reed)

Presidential candidates spar on taxes, jobs, economy; Ayotte praises performance

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney battled over economic issues Wednesday in a 90-minute presidential debate at the University of Denver.

Obama argued his plans would ultimately lead to strong job growth, while Romney charged the President&#';s policies had failed to turn around the economy and make a significant dent in 8.1 percent unemployment.

&#';Governor Romney has a perspective that says if we cut taxes skewed toward the wealthy and roll back regulations, that we&#';ll be better off. I&#';ve got a different view,&#'; Obama said.

Romney laid out a five-point economic plan and accused the Democrat of relying too heavily on big government.

&#';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.

Obama repeated his accusation that Romney would return to a &#';top down&#'; approach that would decrease taxes for those with high incomes.

&#';Governor Romney&#';s view is to cut taxes primarily to benefit the wealthy,&#'; the President said.

Romney immediately called Obama&#';s assertion false.

&#';I&#';m not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people,&#'; Romney said. &#';They&#';ve been doing just fine in this economy. I know it&#';s something you and your running mate like to keep saying, but it&#';s not true,&#'; he said.

Romney said he would bring an approach that relies on a smaller government. He turned around Obama&#';s &#';top down&#'; comment by calling the President&#';s approach a &#';trickle-down government.&#';

An audience of up to 60 million was estimated for the debate, which was moderated by PBS anchor Jim Lehrer.

Romney said portions of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act — which he said labeled five banks as &#';too big to fail — essentially wrote the banks a blank check.

&#';That was the biggest kiss we could have given to New York banks,&#'; Romney said.

&#';If anyone thinks that the economic collapse happened because of too much regulation on Wall Street, then Governor Romney is your candidate,&#'; Obama countered.

Obama said the inspiration for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was the Massachusetts universal health care plan signed into law by Romney while he was governor.

&#';There is a reason Governor Romney did what he did in Massachusetts,&#'; Obama said of the Republican, who has promised to repeal the President&#';s signature health care law.

Romney said there were key differences between the Massachusetts plan and the federal plan, in that the Bay State&#';s plan was a bipartisan effort — he said just two state legislators voted against it — while the federal law was &#';rammed through&#'; without a single Republican vote.

&#';What we did in Massachusetts is a model for the nation — state by state,&#'; Romney said.

After the debate, U.S. Sen. Kelly A. Ayotte, R-N.H., who is a surrogate for Romney, praised Romney&#';s performance.

&#';Mitt Romney&#';s confident, articulate performance tonight laid out the big choice this November in the clearest terms yet,&#'; Ayotte said in a statement. &#';President Obama has an abysmal record and no second-term agenda — meaning voters can only expect another four years of job-killing policies, budget-busting spending, and government-centered health care funded by our hard-earned tax dollars if he is re-elected.

&#';A Mitt Romney presidency, on the other hand, will foster upward mobility and success by championing job creation, implementing market-based health care reforms, reining in federal spending, cutting taxes for middle-class families, and protecting American interests abroad.&#';

New Hampshire Union Leader Staff Writer Tim Buckland contributed to this report.

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