DENVER/WASHINGTON: Mitt Romney basked in rave reviews Thursday after his first debate with President Barack Obama, envisioning an inaugural celebration with conservative activists, while Obama tried to rebound by telling his rival, “If you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth.”
Obama’s remarks at a Colorado campaign event were a sharp contrast to his uncomfortable, low-energy appearance Wednesday night, where Romney’s assertive performance was aimed at reversing his slipping stance in the polls. Republicans who had despaired before the debate quickly rallied to Romney’s side.
Romney has gained ground on Obama following the debate, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released Thursday.
Romney is now viewed positively by 51 percent of voters, the first time the Republican challenger has enjoyed a net positive in the presidential race. Obama’s favorability rating remained unchanged at 56 percent.
Voters now see Romney as a better bet to boost the economy, spur job creation and manage the budget deficit, the poll found.
Obama’s campaign promised Thursday “adjustments” would be made.
And Obama appeared to wake up Thursday, attacking Romney for offering plans to fix the still-weak economy without saying how he would do it.
“The man on stage last night doesn’t want to be held to account ... for what he’s been selling for the last year,” Obama said.
He added, “Here’s the truth: Governor Romney cannot pay for his $5 trillion tax plan without blowing up the deficit or sticking it to the middle class.”
It wasn’t clear whether the debate would sway the less than 10 percent of Americans who say they haven’t yet decided on a candidate. And two debates remain before the Nov. 6 election. Both candidates quickly returned to campaigning in the handful of states that will determine the next president.
Romney said the election will be a “close-fought battle” as he made an unscheduled appearance at a conservative gathering in Colorado, where he took the stage to sustained cheers.
“You guys are going to have to cheer here, and then go out and knock on doors, and get people who voted for President Obama to see the light and come join our team,” Romney said. “And if you do that, we’ll all be able to come together and have a wonderful inauguration celebration in January. So let’s make sure that happens.”
Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod told reporters that the president is “eager” for the next debate. “I’m sure that we will make adjustments,” Alexrod added.
Axelrod also repeatedly accused Romney of “hiding the truth and the facts” from the American people.
Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg responded to the accusations by saying the Obama campaign “offered no defense of the president’s first term record or vision for a second term, and instead, offered nothing but false attacks, petulant statements, and lies about Governor Romney’s record.”
As Romney faced the president directly for the first time in the campaign, signs already were indicating that the race was tightening in some of those battleground states where Obama has enjoyed a recent advantage.
Obama, who appeared to spend much of the 90 minutes looking at the podium while Romney looked at him, signaled that he won’t let up on his message that Romney’s plans on taxes, health care, the deficit and more just don’t add up.“It’s fun,” an energized Romney declared, clearly relishing the back-and-forth.
“It’s arithmetic,” said Obama, hammering at Romney’s conspicuous lack of details with far less enthusiasm.
Both political parties released sharp videos Thursday playing off the debate, with Republicans calling theirs “Smirk” and focusing on Obama’s sometimes sour-looking demeanor. The Democrats called theirs “Mitt Romney: What a Guy,” showing Romney repeatedly interrupting the moderator.
Two debates remain, on Oct. 16 and Oct. 22. The second will focus on foreign affairs.
Romney has promised a balanced budget in eight years to 10 years but hasn’t explained just how he’ll do it. In the next few weeks, he is expected to give a number of speeches filling in details to answer criticism that he hasn’t clearly outlined his plans. The challenger begins with a foreign policy speech in Virginia Monday. Subsequent speeches are expected to focus on job creation, debt and spending.
“At some point, I think the American people have to ask themselves, is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans to replace secret because they’re too good?” Obama said, in a rare show of passion. “Is it because that somehow middle-class families are going to benefit too much from them? No.”
The president said the U.S., with its still-weak economy and unemployment above 8 percent, faces tough problems that defy simple solutions and said his own choices were “benefiting middle-class families all across the country.”
Romney maintained it was Obama who was crushing the middle class and getting the numbers wrong, telling him, “Mr. president, you’re entitled to your own airplane and your own house, but not your own facts.”