NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Social networks lit up Wednesday as users argued over who emerged as the key character from Wednesday’s first president debate. The candidates? Forget it — most attention focused on moderator Jim Lehrer, or the cherished children’s TV character Big Bird.

As Republican Mitt Romney pledged to cut funding to PBS, adding, “I like PBS, I love Big Bird,” commenters on Twitter leaped to the defense of their favorite “Sesame Street” characters.

Big Bird was a major Twitter trend throughout the night, while Oscar the Grouch and Bert and Ernie also featured.

Twitter said that shortly after Romney’s remarks, users were posting 17,000 tweets per minute mentioning Big Bird.

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A spoof Twitter account, @firedbigbird, quickly won thousands of followers, while others shared a jokey, doctored photo showing the character posing with a cardboard sign pleading for work.

Viewers commenting online also quickly turned on the performance of moderator Jim Lehrer, lambasting him as too lenient on candidates who were eager to push the limits of their allotted speaking slots.

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Some compared Lehrer with the replacement officials called up during the strike by National Football League referees. Poor Jim trended as a phrase worldwide, while one user of the website Reddit described him as having been “steamrollered” by the candidates.

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Meanwhile, President Barack Obama and Romney are back on the campaign trail Thursday after taking swipes at each other during Wednesday night’s first debate. The hot topics were taxes, healthcare and the economy.

Each candidate touted his plan to get the economy back on track.

Romney said he had plans to fix the economy, overhaul the tax code, repeal Obama’s health care plan and replace with a better alternative, remake Medicare, pass a substitute for the legislation designed to prevent another financial crash and reduce deficits — but he provided no new specifics despite Obama’s prodding.

Said Obama: “At some point the American people have to ask themselves: Is the reason Governor Romney is keeping all these plans secret, is it because they’re going to be too good? Because middle class families benefit too much? No.”

Both candidates pulled out plenty of one-liners — hoping to hit a home run with the estimated 50 million viewers and voters who were watching.

“I’ve got five boys. I’m used to people saying something that’s not always true but just keep repeating it and ultimately hoping I’ll believe it,” Romney said.

“Under Gov. Romney’s definitions, there are a whole bunch of millionaires and billionaires considered small businesses,” Obama said. “Under Romney’s definition, Donald Trump is a small business.”

A flash CBS News poll showed Romney was the winner by a two-to-one margin among uncommitted debate watchers. Forty-six percent said Gov. Romney won while just 22 percent said Obama came out on top.  Thirty-two percent called it a tie.

The sample had a margin of error of plus or minus four points.

CBS 2 also sampled opinions at a debate-watching party at Hofstra University in Hempstead. Although some support Obama,  many said Romney was the clear winner.

“In this debate, I think Romney’s coming off really, really strong,” one person said. “He’s outlined his points. He seemed cool and collected and he seemed to crack a joke or two.”

“Romney still didn’t give any details, he just had all the ideas, but he didnt explain anything he was going to do,” said another.

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The two presidential rivals also are scheduled to debate on Oct. 16 in Hempstead and Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.

Vice President Joe Biden and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin have one debate, Oct. 11 in Danville, Ky. Both men have already begun holding practice sessions.

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)


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