COLORADO - America's most anticipated face off in Colorado started with a brief moment of levity when the president just had to bring up his 20th wedding anniversary, calling out the First Lady who was sitting in the audience.
“And so I just want to wish you happy anniversary and let you know a year from now we will not be celebrating it in front of 40 million people,” President Barack Obama said.
Presidential candidate Mitt Romney said, “and congratulations to you, Mr. President, on your anniversary. I'm sure this was the most romantic place you could imagine here -- here with me”.
But the joking stopped there.
Obama and his Republican challenger Romney butt heads over taxes and job creation in the first of three debates that could make or break their chances for the White House.
Romney accused the president of failing to lead the country out of the recession, projecting himself as someone who can do a better job.
The economy was the main theme of their showdown as it has been in the campaign.
Romney said the President spent all his energy pushing for a health care law while many languished in poverty.
Obama countered that law has helped people with pre-existing conditions. Besides, it was based on Romney's own plan when he was governor.
When they tackled the budget deficit half way into the debate, Romney gave a rundown of expenses he would cut if he becomes president.
“Obamacare is on my list. I apologize, Mr. President. I use that term with all respect,” he said.
Obama: “I like it”.
Romney: “Okay, good. So, I'll get rid of that. I'm sorry, Jim, I'm gonna stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm gonna stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. I actually like you too, but I'm not gonna keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for us.”
That comment about Sesame Street's Big Bird spurred a frenzy on social media with someone instantly responding by creating a fired Big Bird account and a Facebook page called Big Bird for President.
But more than what they said viewers took notice of what they didn't say.
The issue of immigration wasn't tackled and those concerned about gun control said it's ironic that it wasn't brought up considering that the debate took place only a few miles away from where a mass shooting happened a few months ago.
And then there were the candidates’ non verbal cues. From Obama's constant downward gaze to Romney's smug smile.
Pundits said the president seemed rusty while his opponent was in his element.
“You said you get 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,” Romney said.
In the end, Obama asked Americans to be patient saying his policies needed more time to work.
“It's an election about the course of America. What kind of America do you want to have for yourself and for your children and there really are two very different paths that we began speaking about this evening,” Obama said.
Five weeks before election day polls show Obama leading in most states and in states that allow early voting many Americans have already cast their ballots.
The next two debates will happen in New York and in Florida this month.