DENVER — In 2000, Republican George W. Bush’s campaign made sure the first presidential debate was remembered not for Al Gore’s vigorous attacks on his tax plan but for condescending sighs. President Obama and his allies are similarly seeking to redefine his first debate on their own terms — not as a limp performance by the Democratic incumbent but as a package of lies by Republican challenger Mitt Romney about his real agenda.
Rebranding a debate widely viewed as disastrous is a more daunting challenge than what Bush’s team faced, but the Obama campaign pursued it on Thursday on several fronts, with a harsh television ad that says Romney can’t be trusted and a newly aggressive posture from the president.
“The man on stage last night — he does not want to be held accountable for the real Mitt Romney’s decisions and what he’s been saying for next, year and that’s because he knows full well that we don’t want what he’s been selling for the last year," Obama said on Thursday at a rally in Denver.
The feisty Obama onstage on Thursday was a stark contrast to “President Xanax,” as New York Times columnist Charles Blow called the listless Obama who showed up to debate.
Liberal commentators spewed angst across cable and social media throughout the 90-minute ordeal and beyond. Political professionals — lawmakers and strategists — were more muted, but did not dispute that Obama had lost the first round.
-- Beth Reinhard and Major Garrett
NATIONAL JOURNAL’S N2K PRESIDENTIAL RACE REPORT
Obama: Guy Onstage Was Not the ‘Real Mitt Romney’
[TPM, 10/4/12] At his first campaign event since last night’s debate, President Obama said the man he debated last night was the not the “real Mitt Romney.” Throwing out some of his own zingers and feeling more comfortable in front of a teleprompter, Obama looked like his old self.
Obama Campaign Shifts Attack Strategy After Debate
[BuzzFeed, 10/4/12] Obama and his aides rapidly reversed their strategic course on Thursday morning, shifting the center of their attacks on Mitt Romney back toward the oldest criticisms of the Republican: That he's a flip-flopper.
Obama Campaign: Adjustments Will Be Made in Debate Strategy
[The Hill, 10/4/12] In a conference call with reporters on Thursday, Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said the campaign is going to take “a hard look” at the president’s debate performance. He said they would “have to make some judgments” about future strategy.
The First Presidential Debate, by the Numbers
[Washington Post, 10/4/12] Reporter Sean Sullivan breaks down the major numbers of the debate: from how many times “Medicare” was mentioned to the number of minutes Obama spoke more than Romney.
Romney’s Test: Sustaining Momentum From Strong Debate
[National Journal, 10/4/12] Romney hit his stride on Wednesday night, but the real challenge starts now, as NJ’s Beth Reinhard writes. Romney must seize his most pointed attacks from the debate and turn them into a winning streak, while keeping Obama as snippy and humorless as he was during the faceoff.
FiveThirtyEight: Polls Show a Strong Debate for Romney
[New York Times, 10/4/12] Earlier, Nate Silver said that Romney was down by a touchdown. On Wednesday, Silver said he kicked a field goal, “setting himself up in such a way that his comeback chances have improved by a material amount.”
Romney Supporters Confident After Debate Performance
[National Journal, 10/4/12] Surrogates for Romney took to morning television on Thursday with a newfound sense of confidence: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Romney delivered a “knockout,” while Arizona's Sen. John McCain called Obama’s performance “rusty.” Even Obama surrogates acknowledged Romney’s strong night.
Romney Boasts Jobs Plan in New Ad
[CNN, 10/4/12] The Romney campaign released a new 30-second ad on Thursday that pitches the Republican nominee’s plan to create 12 million jobs in his term of office. Besides touting his tax and energy plans, he also said he would crack down on China. The Obama campaign released its own ad on Thursday, as well.
Debate Renews GOP Confidence in Down-Ballot Races
[National Journal, 10/4/12] After Romney’s surprisingly strong showing in his first presidential debate, Republicans have a new spring in their step and renewed confidence in their ability to get down-ballot races back on track.
Most of the World Is Yawning at the U.S. Presidential Election — Except the Chinese
[Quartz, 10/3/12] Europe is in the midst of a financial crisis. The Arab world is involved in intense fighting. The world was not paying attention to this presidential debate as much as they were in 2008, except for China. Why? Maybe it’s the increase in Internet access.
Post-Debate Polls of Voters Declare Romney the Winner
[National Journal, 10/4/12] Several polls show that uncommitted voters who watched the first presidential debate said by a 2-to-1 margin that Romney was the winner. Romney far exceeded expectations, while the opposite was true for Obama — although a CNN poll found that nearly half of respondents said the debate didn’t make them more likely to vote for either.
WSJ Editorial: ‘Where Has This Romney Guy Been Hiding?’
[Wall Street Journal, 10/4/12] Calling it “the best debate effort by a Republican nominee since Ronald Reagan in 1980,” The Journal’s editorial board joined many in offering praise for Mitt Romney following his debate performance on Wednesday night.
6 Takeaways from the First Presidential Debate
[National Journal, 10/4/12] From his view that moderator Jim Lehrer didn’t help the candidates with broad, unfocused questions, to the idea that Romney effectively managed to dislodge the perception that Obama’s lead in the polls is irreversible, Ronald Brownstein offers six takeaways from the debate.
Media Piles on Moderator Jim Lehrer
[Politico, 10/4/12] The consensus: Lehrer did not control the debate, failed to enforce the time limits, did not press the candidates enough, and generally was steamrolled by Romney in particular. The Denver Post compiled a list of everything Lehrer said during the debate — and it isn’t very long.