(Reuters) - President Barack Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney on Wednesday faced off in Denver in the first of three debates ahead of the November 6 election.
Below are some highlights of what the two candidates said during the widely televised 90-minute encounter:
On Obama's economic plan:
"I'm concerned that we're on the path that's just been unsuccessful. 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."
On the federal deficit:
"I think it's frankly not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in knowing that the burden is going to be passed on to the next generation and they're going to be paying the interest and principal all their lives."
"Regulation is essential. You can't have a free market work without regulation... You have to have regulation so that you can have the economy work. Every free economy has regulation. At the same time regulation can become excessive, it can become out of date. And what's happened with some of the legislation that's been passed under President Obama's term is you've seen some of the regulation become excessive and it has hurt the economy."
On education and role of government:
"The right course for America's government, we're talking about the role of government, is not to become the economic player, picking winners and losers... The right answer for the government is to say, how do we make the private sector become more efficient and more effective? How do we get schools to be more competitive? Let's grade them. I propose we grade our schools."
"I'm not looking to cut massive taxes and reduce the revenues going to the government. My number one principle is there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit. But I do want to reduce the burden being paid by middle-income Americans. And to do that, that also means I cannot reduce the burden paid by high-income people."
"The answer is not to have the federal government take over healthcare and start mandating to the providers across America and telling a patient and a doctor what kind of treatment they can have. That's the wrong way to go. The private market and individual responsibility always work best."
On the middle class, echoing controversial comments by Obama's Vice President Joe Biden:
"The people who are having a hard time right now are middle- income Americans. Under the president's politics middle-income Americans have been buried. Middle-income families are being crushed."
On the middle class, attacking Romney on lack of detailed plans:
"I think the American people have to ask themselves, is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans to replace (my policies) secret because they're too good? Or is it because that somehow the middle-class families are going to benefit too much form them? No."
In response to Romney's tax plan:
"If you think by closing loopholes and deductions for the well-to-do somehow you will not end up picking up the tab, then Governor Romney's plan may work for you. But I think math, common sense, and our history, shows us that's not a recipe for job growth."
"If you're lowering the rates as you describe, governor, it is not possible to come up with enough deductions and loopholes that only affect high-income individuals or burdening the middle class. It's math, it's arithmetic."
On small business:
"We do have a difference when it comes to definitions of small business... Under Governor Romney's definition there are a bunch of millionaires and billionaires who are small businesses. Donald Trump is a small business. And I know Donald Trump doesn't like to think of himself as small anything but that's how you define small business if you're getting business income."
"The reason we have been in such an enormous economic crisis was prompted by reckless behavior across the board... The question is does anybody out there think that the big problem we had is that there was too much oversight and regulation of Wall Street? Because if you do, then Governor Romney is your candidate. But that's not what I believe."
"Governor Romney, I genuinely believe, cares about education. But when he tells a student that you should borrow money from your parents to go to college, that indicates the degree to which there may not be as much of a focus that folks like myself, folks like Michele, kids probably who attend University of Denver, just don't have that option."
On similarities between his and Romney's healthcare plans:
"We used the same advisers and they said it's the same plan... The reason (Romney) set up the system in Massachusetts is there isn't a better way of dealing with a pre-existing condition problem."
Compiled by Alina Selyukh; Additional reporting by Eric Johnson; Editing by Alistair Bell and Eric Walsh