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After debate, Obama campaign signals 'adjustments'

By Julie Pace

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 03:31 p.m. HST, Oct 04, 2012

MADISON, Wis. » His performance panned, President Barack Obama is changing his debate strategy against Republican Mitt Romney, aides conceding the president must find a crisper way to sell his agenda and counter his opponent without getting lost in the weeds.

The heart of Obama's new message with less than five weeks to go: Romney is a liar.

Expect that theme — expressed in softer terms from the president than from his aides — to drive Obama's advertising and messaging for days. Wednesday night's debate showed Obama was rusty, rambling and cautious, but his aides insist he emerged with a real opening to target Romney's assertions.

"Gov. Romney may dance around his positions, but if you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth," Obama declared in his first post-debate appearance, a rally today in Denver. He displayed an energy that was conspicuously absent in the debate.

The new line of argument is based on the Obama campaign's contention that Romney, while sharp and commanding on the debate stage, delivered a series of statements that don't stand up to factual scrutiny. They singled out Romney's positions on tax cuts, education and outsourcing as misleading to the middle class.

David Plouffe, the Obama White House adviser who ran his 2008 campaign, called Romney's performance "probably unprecedented in its dishonesty."

Obama's campaign quickly released an ad raising questions about Romney's honesty, arguing that he didn't level with middle-class families on how his tax plan would affect them. "If we can't trust him here, how could we ever trust him here?" the ad says.

It was airing in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia. Separately, a campaign official said Obama's team had its strongest fundraising month of the 2012 election cycle in September, exceeding August's haul of $114 million. The official would not say how much the campaign raised and requested anonymity because he or she was not authorized to discuss the fundraising publicly.

At the same time, the Obama camp was forced into its own difficult appraisal of the president's performance, with no shortage of critical outside opinions, either.

Those close to Obama said he was so intent on answering questions and not letting Romney rile him that he came across as wonky and lacking punch.

"Obviously, moving forward, we're going to take a hard look at this, and we're going to have to make some judgments as to where to draw the line in these debates and how to use our time," said David Axelrod, the Obama campaign's senior adviser. "I'm sure that we will make adjustments."

Plouffe put it this way when asked about those adjustments: "We just need to account for Romney's dishonesty."

But Obama had other problems, driven in part by a debate format that does not play to his strengths.

He did draw distinctions with Romney on a host of issues central to the campaign, but often did so by seeming to talk to moderator Jim Lehrer more than the audience or the man trying to take his job.

Obama aides acknowledged that the president delved more deeply into the intricate details on policy than they had planned and fell into one of the patterns they had most hoped to avoid — long-winded answers that lacked a clear emotional connection with voters.

Coming out of the debate, in his advertising and his speeches, Obama started hammering Romney for a lack of specifics on his tax plan, and for not being clear about how he would replace the president's health care law and Wall Street regulations.

But the Democratic campaign said there would be no wholesale changes to its strategy.

What's more, Obama aides said it was not at all clear that Romney's debate win would translate where it matters — into votes.

Axelrod said the immediate data gathered from voters showed they gave Romney the edge in performance but broke evenly on how it influenced their vote.

Plouffe said the real measure for Romney was this: "Is he going to take the lead in Ohio? If he doesn't, he's not going to be president."

The next presidential debate is in New York on Oct. 16, followed by a final one in Florida on Oct. 22.

The campaign planned to keep Obama's travel options flexible in the final weeks of the race, but was still focused heavily on Florida, Ohio and Virginia, states with large Electoral College vote hauls. Obama victories in two of those three states would almost certainly block Romney's path to the required 270 electoral votes.

Obama had stops planned in all three states over the next week.

Smiling anew, the president spoke to the largest crowd of the campaign on Thursday afternoon, about 30,000 people in the college town of Madison, Wis.

As the president mockingly searched for the "real Mitt Romney" during an earlier speech in Denver, Vice President Joe Biden pounded the message in Iowa, another toss-up state.

"Ultimately, presidential races, unlike any other race, get down to character," Biden said. "They get down to the character of the man or woman and the character of their convictions: Do they mean what they say and will they do what they say."

AP White House Correspondent Ben Feller in Washington contributed to this report.

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Kapakahi wrote:

It was obvious during the debate that Obama was unhappy with the approach he was taking. I have to disagree with David Plouffe's assessment that Romney's performance was "probably unprecedented in its dishonesty." Didn't he see Paul Ryan's long string of falsehoods in his Republican convention speech? The Republicans have adopted a very low standard of honesty in recent years. I suspect the years of being interviewed by Fox News has deprived them of the ability to distinguish between lies and the truth.

Romney may be able to bluster on with one falsehood after another in a business meeting without anyone calling him on it, but eventually, the fact-checkers will catch up with him.

on October 4,2012 | 01:27PM
serious wrote:
Just look at all the campaign promises he made in his debates four years ago. All he has to do is run on his record--he's a thin skinned LOSER!!! AND, he talks too much!
on October 4,2012 | 01:47PM
allie wrote:
true..Romney is a shibai artist. Lingle also.
on October 4,2012 | 02:00PM
hawaiikone wrote:
No sense asking you for any facts. You'll just blame Israel.
on October 4,2012 | 03:20PM
312guy wrote:
i agree
on October 4,2012 | 07:26PM
hawaiikone wrote:
Romney's dishonestly? Some facts please.
on October 4,2012 | 03:19PM
Hullstown wrote:
HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! President Obama - the MASTERFUL ORATOR - got lambasted in the debate. Now media malcontents and caterwauling commenters are left to pick up the pieces.
on October 4,2012 | 02:55PM
veelc wrote:
There we saw him in all his glory, stripped of his teleprompter and disarmed of the words that someone else puts in his mouth. He had no understanding of the way our economy works nor did he have any accomplishments of his own to point to any policy successes. (Evidence his constant reference to Clintons presidency) Romney on the other hand appeared to be on a major offensive, but that was easy since Barry had no defense. He had absolutely nothing. The king was naked. If what happened last night to O doesn't convince people of his ineptness as CoC much less POTUS, then don't watch or listen to the next two meetings. It'll be more of the same beat down. I'm getting some pupu's and beer. It'll be great.
on October 4,2012 | 05:19PM
312guy wrote:
@FiredBigBird and @SadBigBird Thank you Romney for saving the economy by firing big bird and no more money to PBS. What a Joke.
on October 4,2012 | 06:41PM
808comp wrote:
Obama just lost the election for such a poor outing. Come Jan. there will be a new face in the White House, and he probably wouldn't do any better.
on October 4,2012 | 07:29PM
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