What you missed on and off stage at the debate

Occupy Denver protesters rally against the presidential debate, which was being held at the University of Denver on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver.
(AP Photo/The Denver Post, Hyoung Chang)

Most voters watched the debate on the television and didn’t get to see what happened before and after President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney took the stage. And even then, some of the nonverbal exchanges were lost in broadcast.

Here’s what those voters missed:

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OUTSIDE THE HALL

Not everyone was a fan of what was happening on the University of Denver campus.

About 150 protesters with Occupy Denver marched down Yale Avenue, some eight blocks from the campus. Protesters shouted slogans denouncing a two-party system and the war in Afghanistan and demanding affordable health care.

Jason Leher, a 23-year-old Evergreen State College student from Denver, was cutting out paper letters for a large blue sign that read, “The whole world is our free speech zone.”

Others carried signs reading, “Both parties suck.” Others read, “Demand real debates.”

Just before the debate, police diverted the marchers away from the campus.

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QUIET, PLEASE

Some of the debates leading up to Romney’s nomination were a bit on the boisterous side, to understate it.

Applause, hollers and boos punctuated some of the GOP primary debates, with now-vanquished contenders Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich playing more to the audience in the hall than the one watching at home.

Not this time.

Repeatedly, before the candidates entered the hall, organizers chided the audience of 975 — a third each from the Obama campaign, Romney campaign and organizers’ picks — to behave.

If they didn’t, moderator Jim Lehrer warned, he would ask Michelle Obama and Ann Romney to help enforce the rule against audience reaction to answers.

The audience sat shrouded in darkness throughout the debate. And they largely followed the guidance of debate officials, interjecting laughter only twice — once when Obama mentioned his 20th wedding anniversary to Michelle and again near the end of the debate when the president mentioned that it would be hard for Romney to work with Democrats at the same time he was repealing the health care law they helped pass.

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THE PHYSICAL MOVES

When Romney all but accused Obama of lying about his tax plan, the president alternated between looking directly at his Republican rival and bowing his head to take notes.

At another time, Romney looked to the moderator, waving his hand slightly in the air to indicate that he wanted to jump into the debate. He then insisted that he wanted to have “the last word.”

To be sure, a lot of the exchanges will not be reflected in the transcript.

The president spent much of his time at the podium bowing his head and taking notes, or staring directly at his opponent. He balanced his weight on one foot, crossing his right leg behind his left foot. At one point, a loud thud could be heard coming from backstage. Obama took notice, turning around briefly, though nothing was visible from the stage.

At other times, Romney alternated between a forced smile and surprised scowl as the president spoke.

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THE END

After the pair finished their 90 minutes of sparring, each walked across the stage to shake hands.

“Good job,” the president told his challenger.

Soon after, Ann Romney walked up the stairs, making an excited and triumphant gesture toward her husband before embracing him. Following her up on stage? Four of Romney’s five sons, one of his daughters-in-law and two of his middle school-age grandchildren.

The Obamas both shook hands or chatted briefly with the Romney clan, with Obama at one point bending down to introduce himself to Romney’s granddaughter Chloe.

The president departed the arena within minutes of the debate ending. There was a sharp chill in the air, a drastic shift from the warm and sunny weather that greeted Obama upon his arrival earlier in the day.

Romney lingered on stage longer than the president. He was holding his notes in his hand, the paper folded vertically; he tapped his son Josh on the lapel with the paper and handed it to him. Josh tucked the notes into his suit jacket pocket.

Right before he walked off stage — the president already gone — Romney turned to the audience and put his hand over his heart and waved, a wide grin on his face.

Many whooped and cheered.

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TWITTER REPONSE

Romney’s sons took to Twitter to celebrate their father’s performance. “Now that was fun,” wrote Tagg Romney, the eldest.

Tagg then retweeted his brother, Josh.

“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,” Josh wrote.

The phrase comes from the TV series “Friday Night Lights.” A picture attached to Josh’s tweet showed Mitt and Ann Romney underneath a sign with that phrase printed on it and overlaid on the “R” Romney logo.

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THE PREGAME

Romney spent much of debate day surrounded by his family. In the morning, he took time to meet with top advisers to finish debate preparation. But after he returned from a visit to the debate hall in the afternoon, four of his five sons joined him in his hotel room, along with wife Ann and two of his grandchildren.

He and Ann had a takeout dinner from The Cheesecake Factory — he had spaghetti and a barbecue sandwich.

Even before the debate began, the Romneys huddled together as a family. Mitt and Ann Romney watched their sons play Jenga, a game of stacked wooden pieces where players pull them out one at a time until the wooden tower falls.

Sons Craig and Matt Romney were shown in photos playing with Nick, who is Matt’s son and Mitt’s grandson.

Also before the debate, Obama got a visit from his wife, Michelle, who arrived in Denver on Wednesday afternoon following a solo campaign swing. The two rode to the debate together in the president’s black armored limousine, eliciting cheers from a crowd gathered outside Obama’s hotel on the first couple’s 20th wedding anniversary.

Copyright © 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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GOP Convention finally hits its stride

Ann Romney, wife of U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The Republican National Convention is finally in full-throated roar, cheering presidential nominee Mitt Romney‘s name at every turn in a long-sought show of unity and mocking the man he is out to defeat in November.

A soft-sided portrayal of the Republican candidate as husband and father, painted by his wife on the stage in a direct appeal to women, combined with a parade of gleeful Obama-bashers Tuesday as the GOP seized its moment after days of worry about the hurricane that simultaneously roared ashore in Louisiana — well out of sight of the gathering, and mostly out of mind for the night.

The convention’s keynote speaker, the unpredictable New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, issued a broad indictment of Democrats as “disciples of yesterday’s politics” who “whistle a happy tune” while taking the country off a fiscal cliff.

“It’s time to end this era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office and send real leaders to the White House,” he said. “Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to put us back on the path to growth and create good-paying private-sector jobs again in America.”

Romney made his debut at the convention two days before his own speech, rousing the crowd into cheers as he took the stage briefly to share a kiss with his wife after she spoke. Ann Romney‘s prime-time speech was in large measure an outreach to female voters as she declared her husband “will not let us down” if elected president.

Her tone was intimate as she spoke about the struggles of working families: “If you listen carefully, you’ll hear the women sighing a little bit more than the men. It’s how it is, isn’t it? It’s the moms who always have to work a little harder, to make everything right.”

Mrs. Romney’s mission was clear. For all the hundreds of speeches he’s given and the years he’s spent reaching this moment, Romney remains largely inscrutable, a man in a business suit whose core remains a mystery to most of the nation. And he consistently lags behind President Barack Obama among women in polls.

Republicans have a little more than two months to change that and build upon his greatest perceived strength, as an economic fixer, in an election that by all indications is tight.

Elbowing in on the Republican’s big week, Obama summoned a large campaign crowd of his own, 13,000 on the campus of Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., and tried to convert their boos for the Republicans into Election Day results for him. “Don’t boo, vote,” Obama said when his reference to the GOP agenda brought derision from the crowd. “That’s the best response. Vote and get some of your friends to vote.”

Despite the respite from the preoccupation with Isaac, the storm continues to cast uncertainty into a convention that scrubbed the first day of events out of fear it would swipe Tampa, which it didn’t. Any scenes of destruction along the Gulf Coast were sure to temper the celebratory tone, and further compression of the schedule was possible if the storm proved disastrous, making politicking unseemly.

The list of speakers is to be topped Wednesday night by Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, before the candidate himself speaks Thursday night to bring down the curtain-closing balloons. Obama’s Democratic National Convention follows next week in Charlotte, N.C.

Republicans uncorked the anti-Obama rhetoric from the outset Tuesday. The Democratic president has “never run a company,” declared Reince Priebus, the Republican chairman. “He hasn’t even run a garage sale or seen the inside of a lemonade stand.” House Speaker John Boehner spoke of an America with “no government there to hold your hand. Just a dream and the desire to do better. President Obama doesn’t get this. He can’t fix the economy because he doesn’t know how it was built.”

Romney was affirmed as the nominee in a suspenseless roll call of state delegations. He received 2,061 votes to 190 for his nearest roll-call rival, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a preordained victory sealed months ago when the former Massachusetts governor prevailed in a bruising series of primaries and caucuses. Rick Santorum, his most serious competitor at the height of the primary season, closed ranks Tuesday night, at least to a point. He slammed Obama for turning the American dream of freedom into a “nightmare of dependency” in a speech focused on welfare reform and mentioning Romney only at the end.

Paul, the iconoclastic libertarian who has a passionate following but never won a primary race, did not go so quietly, or at least his supporters didn’t. They chanted and booed after the convention adopted rules they opposed but were powerless to block. “Shame on you,” some of his supporters chanted from the floor.

Paul stopped short of a full endorsement of Romney and did not get a speaking slot. But his son, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, a tea party favorite, will address the convention Wednesday night.

Romney’s nomination followed ratification of a party platform thoroughly shaped by conservatives and further to the right on abortion than the candidate himself. Nothing binds Romney to the document and presidents typically pay platforms little heed in office, except for the parts that echo their own agenda.

Obama campaigned in Iowa as well as Colorado on Tuesday as he set out on a campus tour in battleground states in hopes of boosting voter registration among college students.

Before departing the White House, he made a point of appearing before reporters to announce the government’s latest steps to help those in the way of Isaac. He signed a declaration of emergency for Mississippi and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local storm response efforts in the state.

His allies did their best to counter Romney and the Republicans.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, dismissing GOP attempts to woo Hispanic voters, said, “You can’t just trot out a brown face or a Spanish surname and expect people are going to vote for your party or your candidate.” He added, “This is a party with a platform that calls for the self-deportation of 11 million people.”

Hispanics strongly favor Obama, according to public polls, and Romney and his party have been seeking to win a bigger share of their votes by emphasizing proposals to fix the economy rather than ease their positions on immigration.

Polls find the economy is overwhelmingly the dominant issue in the race and voters narrowly favor Romney to handle it. In an AP-GfK poll taken Aug. 16-20, some 48 percent of registered voters said they trust Romney more on economic issues, to 44 percent for Obama. However, a Washington Post-ABC News in the days immediately before the convention found that 61 percent of registered voters said Obama was more likable, while 27 percent said Romney.

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Woodward reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Brian Bakst, Thomas Beaumont, Tamara Lush, Brendan Farrington, Julie Mazziotta, Steve Peoples, Kasie Hunt and Philip Elliott in Florida and Stephen Ohlemacher, Alicia A. Caldwell and Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press

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It’s official: Mitt Romney is now the GOP nominee for President

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney hugs his wife Ann Romney on stage at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

Republicans bestowed their presidential nomination on Mitt Romney on Tuesday, turning to the former Massachusetts governor and multi-millionaire businessman as their hope for driving Barack Obama from the White House and ushering in a new era of small-government conservatism.

The overwhelming, enthusiastic vote of delegates at the Republican National Convention belied Romney’s long, difficult road to the party’s nomination: losing to Sen. John McCain four years ago and fending off a series of rivals in a brutal nomination fight this year. In the end, Republicans cast aside doubts about Romney’s conservative credentials and bet that American voters would be persuaded that his business acumen was just what America needed in dreary economic times.

“Mitt Romney will tell us the hard truths we need to hear to put us back on the path to growth and create good paying private sector jobs again in America,” said New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, delivering the convention’s keynote address, rousing the Republican audience.

Still, Republican exuberance was tempered as Hurricane Isaac slammed into the southern Louisiana coast and headed toward New Orleans late Tuesday, striking the same region hit by Hurricane Katrina seven years ago. The storm prompted Republicans to cancel the first day of the convention. Though it no longer threatens Tampa, Republicans were wary of holding a boisterous political celebration just as the storm was unleashing its fury.

With Romney’s nomination now official, and Obama’s assured at next week’s Democratic convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. voters will face a clear-cut clash of ideologies: Romney, conservative on social issues such as gay marriage and abortion, favours cutting taxes, slashing the government and repealing Obama’s signature health care overhaul — even though it was modeled after one of his own programs as governor. Obama is liberal on social issues, wants to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans and sees government as a potential force for good.

Polls show the race a dead heat, with the economy the top issue in the campaign. Voters say they trust Romney more on economic issues, but find Obama to be the more likable candidate.

Romney is scheduled to make his acceptance speech Thursday night.

In the state-by-state roll call of convention delegates, Romney won 2,061 to 190 for Ron Paul, a libertarian-leaning Texas congressman. Paul’s supporters chanted and booed after the convention adopted rules they opposed, but were powerless to block, to prevent those votes from being officially registered. “Shame on you,” some of his supporters shouted from the floor.

The highlights of Tuesday’s session were the keynote address by Christie, a star of the party seen as a likely future presidential candidate, and the speech by Romney’s wife, Ann. Both spoke during prime television time when all the major networks were airing the convention live.

“Leadership matters,” Christie said. “It’s time to end this era of absentee leadership in the Oval Office and send real leaders to the White House.”

Ann Romney‘s speech was meant to cast her husband, lampooned by comedians as robotic and denounced by Democrats as lacking compassion, in a soft and likable light.

She lovingly talked of her 43-year marriage, noting her own experiences battling muscular sclerosis and breast cancer. Her speech sounded at times like a heart-to-heart talk among women and at times like a testimonial to her husband’s little-known softer side. Romney lags behind Obama in surveys among female voters.

“You can trust Mitt. He loves America,” his wife said.

She described him as a man who wakes up every day determined to solve the problems that others say can’t be solved.

“This man will not fail,” she said. “This man will not let us down.”

Mitt Romney appeared on stage briefly at the end of the speech, kissing his wife, to wild cheers. It was his first appearance at the convention.

Christie’s and Ann Romney’s speeches followed a long series of addresses by other top party officials, praising Romney and blasting Obama. Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, said Obama has “never run a company. He hasn’t even run a garage sale or seen the inside of a lemonade stand.”

Rick Santorum, one of Romney’s presidential primary rivals, told the convention that under Obama, the American dream of freedom and opportunity has become a “nightmare of dependency” with almost half of the country receiving some form of government benefit.

Also, before nominating Romney, Republicans approved a party platform calling for cutting taxes as a way to stimulate the economy, ending abortion and repealing Obama’s health care plan.

Congressman Paul Ryan, Romney’s vice-presidential running mate, is scheduled to speak Wednesday. Republican delegates officially nominated him for the second-in-command spot on Tuesday night shortly after they named Romney.

While Republicans gathered in Florida, Obama campaigned in Iowa and Colorado as he set out on a tour of college campuses in hopes of boosting voter registration among college students, who tend to support him. Before departing the White House, he made a point of appearing before reporters to announce the government’s latest steps to help those in the path of Isaac. He signed a declaration of emergency for Mississippi and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local storm response efforts in the state.

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Associated Press writers David Espo, Brian Bakst, Thomas Beaumont, Tamara Lush, Brendan Farrington, Julie Mazziotta, Steve Peoples, Kasie Hunt and Philip Elliott in Florida and Steven Ohlemacher, Alicia A. Caldwell and Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press

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Can Mitt Romney morph into a ‘regular guy?’

Mitt Romney chows down on a burger (AP Photo/Jae C. Hon, File)

Mitt Romney’s Etch A Sketch moment is at hand.

Now that he’s the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Romney is shifting away from the “red-meat” issues of abortion and immigration and instead holding more events highlighting his appeal as a regular guy.

The transformation played out Friday when he emerged publicly for the first time in days at a central Ohio university carrying a hamburger and fries in a Styrofoam container.

In a small room that featured more television cameras than students, Romney chatted about economic issues facing young people as he picked through his greasy lunch.

Romney’s appearance at Otterbein University wasn’t the full strategic shakeup from primary to general election that some Republicans feared, but it offered a glimpse into what aides say will be a shift in tone and focus in the coming weeks as Romney fights to deny President Barack Obama a second term.

He will favor more intimate settings, like the Ohio classroom, and a schedule that calls for fewer public appearances as the campaign hopes to show a softer side of the former Massachusetts governor who struggles at times to connect with average Americans. That’s a dramatic difference from Obama, who feeds on large crowds and has scheduled his first formal campaign rallies for May 5.

While the Republican presidential contest has been raging for more than a year, the Romney campaign concedes that most general election voters haven’t yet paid close attention. The campaign now sees an opportunity to reintroduce their candidate to the independents and moderate voters — Hispanics and younger voters, among them — who will ultimately help decide November’s general election. His focus will shift to Obama’s record, his own economic credentials and what aides call “inspirational themes.”

“I’m absolutely convinced that this nation is the greatest nation on earth, and it is so because of the American people, a people who stand united when called upon by leaders to be united,” Romney said at Otterbein University Friday, offering unusually measured remarks — even for the former businessman’s standards — mentioning Obama by name only a handful of times. “I will try and unite the American people, not divide us.”

But the stop at Otterbein University highlighted Romney’s challenge: His style on the campaign trail is a study in contrasts.

Romney is almost constantly cracking jokes with the people around him — whether they are governors or college students or his staff. He likes practical jokes and fast food, whether cameras are rolling or not. But he is at other times incredibly disciplined, refusing to take impromptu questions from reporters or wade into difficult subjects unprepared.

He often delivers remarks from a teleprompter — an aid he’s criticized Obama for using — and he rarely displays emotion in public. Campaigning in Puerto Rico last month, he may have been the only person on a crowded stage not dancing.

Indeed, despite the preparation and years of practice, Romney sometimes transmits an awkwardness even in intimate settings.

“Congratulations,” he said in between bites of a hamburger after Otterbein senior Jeff Fabus described his struggle to pay for college.

In more formal remarks to students later in the day, he raised some eyebrows after suggesting that students “take risks” — and even borrow money from their parents — to help improve their economic fortunes by finishing their education.

“This is kind of an American experience,” he said.

But Romney’s story is not typical of most Americans. Romney paid for his graduate education at Harvard University, in part, by selling stock that his father — a former Michigan governor — bought for him, Ann Romney told the Boston Globe in 1994.

Facing intensifying attacks from Democrats, however, Romney has fine-tuned a message to address such criticism, insisting that he will not apologize for his success. Expect that message to continue as he faces new rounds of questions about his business career and continued reluctance to provide more than two years of tax returns.

He may be shifting his focus and delivery, but his broad message has not changed over the last year. He has consistently focused on the economy and his record in the private sector. And while he periodically attacked his Republican opponents on the campaign trail, he usually saved his most heated criticism for Obama.

A memo released by campaign manager Matt Rhoades late last week suggests he’ll continue that tack.

“We now know that only one campaign is going to run on President Obama’s record of the past three-and-a-half years in office — and it’s not the Obama campaign,” Rhoades wrote.

Regardless of his specific message, however, Romney’s delivery at times can seem stiff, even to supporters. He speaks with the measured tone of a former business executive, methodically scanning the audience from side to side. The Otterbein crowd greeted him with a standing ovation but wasn’t inspired to interrupt him again with applause until 27 minutes into the speech.

And he struggled to hold the younger crowd’s attention at times.

The Romney campaign is confident that general election voters will ultimately warm to Romney’s style as they get to know him better, particularly with the help of his wife, Ann.

“I think America’s going to fall in love with Ann Romney,” said senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom, who last month suggested Romney would handle the transition to the general election like an Etch A Sketch. “I think they’re going to fall in love with Mitt Romney and the entire family.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press

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