A day after a muted performance in a presidential debate, US President Barack Obama fought back against Republican rival Mitt Romney on Thursday and the Democrat’s re-election campaign vowed to learn lessons from the setback.
A feisty Obama told a rally of some 12,000 people that the former Massachusetts governor was untruthful during Wednesday’s debate in Denver, which most observers reckoned the Republican won.
“When I got onto the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney,” Obama said. “But it couldn’t have been Mitt Romney, because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising US$5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow on stage last night said he didn’t know anything about that.”
Often criticized for being wooden, Romney’s aggressive debate performance gave his campaign a burst of energy after weeks of setbacks.
Looking at times tired and displeased, Obama did not seize opportunities to attack the Republican on his business record at Bain Capital, the “47 percent” video and his refusal to release more income tax returns.
Romney meanwhile tried to take the “47 percent” issue away from subsequent debates. In a damaging video from a private fund-raising speech, Romney had said in May that 47 percent of voters are dependent on government and unlikely to support him.
Three weeks after the video came to light, Romney completely disavowed the remarks for the fist time, telling Fox News what he said was “just completely wrong.”
“Clearly, in a campaign with hundreds, if not thousands of speeches and question and answer sessions, now and then you’re going to say something that doesn’t come out right,” he said.
The debate unfolded before a national television audience of 67.2 million, according to television ratings firm Nielsen, up 28 percent compared with the first presidential debate in 2008 between Obama and Republican Senator John McCain.
With two more presidential debates before the Nov. 6 election, senior aide David Axelrod said the Obama campaign would adjust its strategy as a result of the debate.
“We are going to take a hard look at this and we are going to have to make some adjustments as to where to draw the lines in these debates and how to use our time,” he told reporters.
Democratic sources said Obama raised more than US$100 million last month in another sign of his financial strength going into the last month of the campaign.
Romney prepared for the Denver encounter with days of mock debates and was more ready to go on the offensive against Obama in detailed discussion on taxes, jobs, energy and the budget deficit.
Obama is unlikely to add “huge amounts of additional prep time,” for the two other debates on Oct. 16 in New York and on Oct. 22 in Florida, Axelrod said.
Part of the Obama strategy will be to attack Romney for what the Democratic campaign says are untruthful statements during the debate on his tax plan, Medicare and deficit cutting, as well as pressing him on what appeared to be changes in position on issues like bank regulation.
“We obviously are going to have to adjust for the fact of Mitt Romney’s dishonesty,” senior advisor David Plouffe said. “It’s hard to remember a time in American politics when you have someone who is a major nominee for the presidency being that fundamentally dishonest about core parts of his campaign platform.”