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POLITICS

Obama back on the attack after lackluster debate

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Politics,Congress,Susan Ferrechio,Campaign 2012

Both sides are still waiting to see the poll numbers that would show just how much of an impact last week's presidential debate had on the race, but President Obama wasted no time springing back from his listless performance to launch a new round of attacks on Republican Mitt Romney.

Obama hit the campaign trail almost as soon as he left the debate stage at the University of Denver, with aides pledging to make adjustments. Within 48 hours, the president was on the rebound.

Obama made an appearance in Colorado, then jetted off to Wisconsin, Virginia and Ohio -- all crucial battleground states. Bolstered by the news that unemployment just dipped below 8 percent, he sprinted onto makeshift stages in front of cheering crowds and displayed a level of enthusiasm Democrats wished he'd shown against Romney. He took what he calls a shellacking in the debate, but Obama wasn't going to spend another minute being defensive.

"My guess is they will never again take their foot off the accelerator," Democratic strategist Chris Lehane told The Washington Examiner. "This is a campaign where Obama has gotten where he has gotten by constantly being on the offensive."

Central to the president's comeback is his charge that Romney's acclaimed performance may have been elegant but it was peppered with lies about what he really wants to do as president.

"My opponent has been trying to do a two-step and reposition, and got an extreme makeover," Obama said at George Mason University in Fairfax, eliciting laughter from the crowd.

At a rally of 12,000 in Denver, he called his debate opponent "the guy playing Mitt Romney" and said Romney misrepresented his real agenda "because he knows full well that we don't want what he's been selling for the last year."

Republicans grudgingly acknowledged that Obama's strategy to blunt Romney's post-debate momentum could work.

"It was really a brilliant move," said Hogan Gidley, a Republican strategist and former top aide to Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a one-time Romney opponent. "It discounts Romney's performance, but it also subtly gives an excuse for Obama's own performance."

Political experts analyzing Obama's latest stump speeches noted that the president is blasting Romney on issues like Medicare and taxes, which target voters in must-win swing states like Ohio and Florida

"It now looks like the gloves are coming off," University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith told The Examiner. "The president seems willing to hit his challenger with material gleaned from his negative ads, which have been softening Gov. Romney for months in key battleground states."

Obama advisers say they aren't worried about the debate because Romney still lags behind in the swing states, though a Rasmussen poll out Friday showed the gap suddenly closing in Ohio, a must-win state for Romney.

Obama, meanwhile, is picking material straight from the debate transcript to ridicule Romney, including Romney's assertion that he would cut federal funding for public broadcasting if he is elected president.

"For all you moms and kids out there, don't worry," Obama told the Fairfax audience. "Somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird."

While the quips were a hit, Gidley said, they reached an audience much smaller than the one watching his lackluster debate performance.

"The problem for Obama," he said, "is 65 million people saw his debate performance."

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

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