During the first presidential debate in 2008 between Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. John McCain, the candidates and moderator uttered 16,152 words. And as Obama and Mitt Romney opened a month of debates Wednesday night, the word counts for these spectacles should be about the same.
And many of those words will actually be numbers.
Throughout the campaign, both candidates had at their disposal numbers, figures, statistics and percentages to bolster their arguments and attacks. Most of those numbers have become staples of the Republican and Democratic stump speeches during the past several months, and are likely to be the focus of the three debates between the presidential candidates and the one faceoff between their running mates.
On Wednesday the candidates descended on Denver for their first debate, along with scores of aides who had been prepping them for the big night. With all eyes on their first face-to-face encounter in years, much attention will be on the stagecraft. But their main points through their month of debates will be delivered through a blizzard of numbers, and here is a roundup of the most frequently cited figures that have been at the core of the arguments between the two campaigns.
8.1 PERCENT • The unemployment rate. Probably the most frequently cited number in the 2012 presidential campaign. Romney cites it as evidence of the president’s persistent failure to confront a sluggish economy. Obama counters by citing more than two years of positive job growth.
30 • The number of months in which the country added private-sector jobs. Obama frequently uses it to push back against Romney’s attacks that he has failed at job creation.
47 PERCENT • The now-famous proportion of the public that Romney said were “dependent” on the government and viewed themselves as “victims.” The president’s campaign has seized on the comments from secretly recorded remarks as evidence of Romney’s true feelings toward the less well off. He will no doubt cite it frequently.
100 PERCENT • The proportion of the American public that Romney says he will represent as president. Look for Romney to emphasize this number frequently as he tries to counter the perception that he cares only about the wealthy.
$5 TRILLION • This $5 trillion figure is the cost of Romney’s proposals to cut taxes for the wealthy, according to Obama’s campaign. The president’s claim that Romney would raise taxes on the middle class is driven by this estimate of the Republican tax cuts. Expect to hear it several times.
$16 TRILLION • The amount of U.S. debt. Romney has tried repeatedly to get people focused on the country’s $16 trillion debt after four years of an Obama presidency. (His convention even featured a large debt clock.) For Republicans, it is a good way to motivate swing voters in places like Colorado.
$2,000 • The amount that Obama says middle-class taxes will go up if Romney is elected. The president bases this on a study by a bipartisan research institute and uses it frequently on the stump.
FIVE • The number of days that Romney says the U.S. government knew about the terrorist connections to the attack in Benghazi, Libya, before acknowledging them. Four people were killed, including the ambassador. Wednesday night’s debate was to focus on domestic policy, but Romney seems eager to push the idea that Obama was covering up the true nature of the attack.
$3.80 • The average price of a gallon of gas. Energy has faded a bit as an issue since earlier this summer. But if he gets a chance, Romney will almost certainly note that gas was $1.84 a gallon when Obama took office.
$6,400 • The additional amount that Obama says individual seniors would pay if Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, enacted their plans for reforming Medicare. The president calls the Republican plan a “voucher” system that would cost seniors more for insurance and drugs. Republicans accuse the president of scare tactics and bad math.
NO. 1 • Where Russia ranks on the list of America’s most important geopolitical foes, according to Romney. The Republican has since revised his comment, saying he was talking about Russia as a political adversary. Expect Obama to perhaps cite the number as evidence that Romney is not well schooled in foreign policy when they focus on this subject at a later debate.
FOUR YEARS • The amount of time that Vice President Joe Biden says the middle class has been “buried” during Obama’s administration. The administration quickly said the vice president was talking about a middle class saddled by the effect of Republican policies from before Obama’s presidency. But Republicans have vigorously pounced on this.
23 MILLION • The number of Americans who are, in Romney’s vernacular, “unemployed, underemployed or have stopped looking for work.” It is one of Romney’s favorite statistics, meant to dramatize the extent of the jobs crisis that has persisted and grown during Obama’s tenure. The president will again cite steady — if not spectacular — job growth.
46.2 MILLION AND 15 MILLION • The number of people in poverty and the growth in the number of people on food stamps. The Republicans use these figures to try to counter the suggestion that the president is the one who cares for the poor and the middle class.
47th • Where Massachusetts ranked in job creation during Romney’s tenure as governor. The president’s campaign likes this statistic, because it says it undermines Romney’s claim of achievement as an executive. Romney counters that the job picture improved significantly by the end of his term.
$17,000 • The amount at which Romney says he might cap deductions after lowering income tax rates. He offered the new detail this week after resisting any specifics and could offer it during the debate. Democrats say such a cap could hit middle income people who already deduct more for homes, health care and charitable donations.
FOUR • The number of Supreme Court justices older than 70, who might be candidates for replacement by the next president. Both candidates can appeal to their base by warning that the direction of the court could be determined by the outcome of November’s election.
TWO • The number of years of tax returns that Romney has released. This has been the focus of one of the most aggressive attacks by the president, who believes that it crystalizes the sense that Romney is out of touch with regular people. And it’s been one of the things Romney has struggled to respond to.
12 • The number of years of tax returns that George Romney, Mitt Romney’s father, released when he was running for president in 1968. Democrats love to tweak Mitt Romney with that number, especially since the Republican awkwardly answered “maybe” when asked during a primary debate if he would do the same.
11 MILLION • The number of illegal immigrants in America. Romney has recently tried to soften his hard edge on immigration, saying that he would not undo Obama’s executive order that allows some immigrants who came as children to stay for two years. Obama may remind viewers that Romney used to say the 11 million people should “self-deport.”
14.1 PERCENT • The rate that Romney paid on his federal tax returns during the past two years. When it comes to the president’s effort to portray Romney as wealthy and out of touch, this is a crucial figure. Romney has argued that he paid every cent he owed and defends lower rates on investment income as good for the economy.
20 PERCENT • The size of the across-the-board tax rate cuts that Romney promises if he is elected. The Republican candidate says everyone will pay a lower rate, but that the wealthy will continue to pay because of loopholes and deductions that will be closed or reduced. The middle class will benefit the most, he says.
ZERO • The number of votes in the Senate that Obama’s budget received when Republicans forced it to a vote. Republicans love to cite this figure, using it as evidence of how out of the mainstream the president’s proposals are. Obama counters that the vote was a gimmick engineered by Republicans to embarrass the White House.
1.3 PERCENT • The U.S. economic growth in the second quarter, revised down from an already paltry 1.7 percent. The new, lower figure that came out last week provides new ammunition for Romney to argue that the president’s policies have failed to kick-start the U.S. economy.
12 MILLION • The number of new jobs Romney promises his economic plan will deliver during his first term. It also happens to be the number of new jobs that independent economists say would be created during the next four years if Obama’s current policies are followed.
$4,000 • The amount that middle-class families will be taxed because of Obama’s economic policies, according to Romney. On the stump, Romney and Ryan both use this figure, arguing that average Americans will continue to suffer during another Obama term. Democrats contest the figure.