Denver (Colorado): Barack Obama demanded truth from the “real Mitt Romney” on Thursday as aides promised a “hard look” at strategy after the US President’s listless performance in the first White House debate.
Passionate, cutting and engaged, in stark comparison to his debate showing, Obama told 12,000 cheering supporters at a chilly lakeside rally in Denver that the Romney who turned up to their first head-to-head clash on Wednesday night was an impostor who had covered up unpopular positions.
“I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney,” Obama said. “It couldn’t have been Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year, promising $5 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthy.”
“The fellow on stage last night said he didn’t know anything about that. The real Mitt Romney said we don’t need any more teachers in our schools. The fellow on stage last night—he loves teachers, can’t get enough of them.”
“If you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth,” a fired-up Obama told supporters anxious not to see him fritter away his opinion poll lead with less than five weeks to go before election day.
The President’s feisty appearance represented a clear effort to shift the news cycle away from his stinking debate reviews and stall Romney’s bid to create a comeback narrative following his unexpectedly strong showing.
About 40 million people watched the debates on television, according to preliminary figures by Nielsen TV ratings service.
Obama seized on Romney’s comment that he knew nothing about a tax break for companies that outsource jobs overseas, saying that if that was true then the multi-millionaire former venture capitalist needed a new accountant.
“He seems to be doing just fine with his current accountant,” he said, poking fun at Romney’s complex offshore tax arrangements, which Democrats highlight to press the case he is indifferent to middle-class struggles.
Obama also mocked Romney over his plan to cut government subsidies for the PBS television channel that produces famed early learning show “Sesame Street”.
“Thank goodness somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird, it is about time, we didn’t know that Big Bird was driving the federal deficit.”
Romney, meanwhile, basked in the plaudits for his performance as he addressed a fund-raising event, saying Americans had seen two contrasting visions for the future on stage in Denver.
The Republican challenger made a surprise appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Colorado, thrilling hundreds of attendees as he stepped on stage to join his sons who were scheduled guests.
“I know this is going to be a close-fought battle,” Romney said. “We need to win Colorado. You know what, if we do, we are going to win back the White House.”
In his first public appearance since trumping Obama in the first of three one-on-one debates, the former Massachusetts governor pursued attacks on what he portrayed as the president’s continuing expansion of government.
“I saw the president’s vision as trickle-down government and I don’t think that’s what America believes in,” Romney said. “I see instead a prosperity that comes through freedom.”
Obama turned in a lethargic and sometimes irritable performance in Denver on Wednesday night, allowing a pumped-up Romney an opening in a White House race that had been trending away from the Republican after weeks of gaffes.
The President’s campaign team signalled that they understood Obama’s performance was below par and promised a rethink before the next clash in New York state in two weeks’ time.
Top strategist David Axelrod told reporters on a damage limitation conference call that Romney’s performance was laced with untruths that the campaign would now push back on.
“We are going to take a hard look at this,” Axelrod said. “I’m sure we will make adjustments.”
Axelrod said Obama had taken a conscious decision not to get into a slugfest with Romney at the debate at the University of Denver because he believed that American voters deserved better.
“What the President wanted to avoid was a situation where you had two politicians up there insulting each other,” he said, before comparing the Republican candidate to Charles Dickens’s famous pickpocket.
“He is kind of a serial Artful Dodger. That makes it a more challenging kind of event,” Axelrod said.
The question now is whether Romney’s debate performance has changed the minds of enough wavering voters in key swing states to give the Republican challenger a real chance on 6 November.
Opinion polls in the coming days will provide the first clues. AFP