But a wave of anxiety rippled through the Democratic ranks, with many of Obama’s supporters suddenly nervous about their candidate with just over a month left before the election. Some leading Democrats played down the debate’s significance. Others offered various explanations — including, from former vice president Al Gore, that Obama had been disoriented by Denver’s altitude after flying in from the Nevada lowlands — for an uncharacteristically poor public performance from the president.
Attempting to regain the upper hand in what is still a close race, Obama appeared Thursday at campaign rallies in Denver and later in Madison, Wis., in a pair of states critical to his reelection efforts. At both events, Obama roundly criticized Romney as misrepresenting himself and his policies during the debate.
“It couldn’t have been the real Mitt Romney,” Obama told thousands of supporters gathered in Denver’s Sloan’s Lake Park, “because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country all year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts to the wealthy, but the fellow onstage last night did not know anything about that. The real Mitt Romney said we do not need any more teachers in the classroom, but the fellow onstage said he loves teachers, can’t get enough of them.”
Romney also appeared in Colorado, where he described the debate as a “great opportunity for the American people to see two very different visions for the country.” Later he took the stage with his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), in Virginia.
Obama’s high spirits on the stump the day after the debate — he mocked Romney several times for pledging to “fire” Big Bird by cutting federal funding to public television — belied his listless demeanor of the previous night.
The president’s campaign faced an onslaught of questions about the performance, chiefly: What happened to Obama in Denver? And why hadn’t he said the critical things he did Thursday when he had a television audience of nearly 60 million people watching?
“He made a choice last night to answer the questions that were asked and to talk to the American people about what we need to do to move forward and not get into serial fact-checking with Governor Romney, which can be a tiring pursuit,” David Axelrod, a senior campaign adviser, told reporters.
But Axelrod acknowledged that “I’m sure we will make adjustments,” adding later that “we have to strike a balance.”