Key moments: First US presidential debate
Key moments from the first presidential debate between Democratic incumbent Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Mr Obama said America had begun to fight its way back from the economic crisis, saying that five million new jobs had been created in the private sector during the last 13 months.
He urged Americans to embrace "a new economic patriotism that says: 'America does best when the middle class does best'".
But Mr Romney said that, over the last four years, his opponent had fostered an environment that was not friendly to small businesses.
He criticised Mr Obama's approach of "bigger government, spending more, taxing more", pledging to "restore the vitality that gets America working again".
Mr Romney criticised the US government's high budget deficit, saying that it is not just an economic issue, but a moral issue.
"I think it is frankly not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in knowing those burdens are going to be passed on to the next generation... And the amount of debt we are adding at a trillion a year is simply not moral," Mr Romney said.
Mr Obama said that when he entered the Oval Office he inherited a more than $1 trillion deficit. He said he had worked with Democrats and Republicans to cut a trillion dollars out of the discretionary domestic budget.
"Now, we all know that we've got to do more," he said. And he went on to outline his $4tn deficit-reduction plan.
Mr Obama said the first role of the federal government was to "keep the American people safe", something he had "worked on and thought about every single day that I've been in the Oval Office".
He also said government had the capacity to help open up opportunities to allow Americans to succeed.
"The genius of America is the free enterprise system, and freedom, and the fact that people can go out there and start a business, work on an idea, make their own decisions," Mr Obama said.
Mr Romney said the role of government was to maintain "for individuals the right to pursue their dreams". He accused the Obama administration of "thinking it can do a better job than free people".
He hammered this point home referring to unemployment levels, the number of people in the US who live in poverty, the rising number of people on food stamps, and "the fact that 50% of college graduates this year can't find work".
Mr Romney made a detailed case for repealing "Obamacare", the so-called healthcare plan that the president pushed through Congress in 2010.
"It has killed jobs," he said. Mr Romney said the best course for healthcare was to "craft a plan at the state level that fits the needs of the state".
Mr Obama staunchly defended his healthcare plan, saying "we now have a system in which we have the opportunity to start bringing down cost". He said he had worked on healthcare "alongside working on jobs, because this is part of making sure that middle-class families are secure in this country".
The two rivals were given two minutes each to sum up what they would bring to the role if elected in November.
Going first, Mr Obama said his "faith and confidence in the American future is undiminished".
He stressed that everything he had been trying to do in the past four years, and was now proposing to continue doing, was to make sure that the "genius and determination" of the American people were channelled and that everybody had "a fair shot to succeed".
Mr Romney began by saying that he was concerned about the direction America had been taking over the past four years.
He stressed that he and Mr Obama were offering "two very different paths" for the country.
And he pledged to "get income up again" and "help create 12 million new jobs".