By Anita Kumar and David Lightman, McClatchy Newspapers –
DENVER — Republican Mitt Romney sought Thursday to use his superior performance at the first presidential debate as a springboard to build momentum for his once beleaguered campaign.
Romney received a rousing, standing ovation from nearly 2,000 during a surprise stop Thursday at a conservative gathering, his first appearance following the debate.
“You guys are going to have to cheer here and then go out and knock on doors and get people who voted for President Obama to see the light and come join our team,” an upbeat, energetic Romney said at a Colorado Conservative Political Action Committee convention in Denver.
Across town at a frigid outdoor rally attended by 12,000, Obama tried to rebound from a debate performance that drew poor reviews, even by his own supporters, with a new line of attack against Romney.
“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 the last year,” he said. “Gov. Romney may dance around his positions, but if you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth.”
Obama’s campaign acknowledged that his performance at the debate did not compare to Romney’s — which it mocked as “Oscar worthy” — but said that the former Massachusetts governor distorted the facts of his tax plan, his support for teachers and his proposed changes to Medicare. Obama, aides said, would hold Romney accountable in the final month of the campaign.
Dressed casually in khakis and a windbreaker, Obama seemed more at ease Thursday at the park rally as he attacked Romney. In a spirited 20-minute speech, the president stuck to familiar themes, such as growing the middle class, but he also told the audience that Romney supports policies that he can’t pay for or even explain.
“When he was asked what he’d actually do to cut the deficit and reduce spending, he said he’d eliminate funding for public television,” he said. “We didn’t know that Big Bird was driving the federal deficit. But that’s what we heard last night. How about that?”
Sharon Tave, 69, a retired executive assistant from Denver wearing a button mocking actor Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican National Convention, wondered whether Obama’s lackluster performance at the debate was part of some larger strategy. “It’s not as good as I’ve seen him,” she said.
Tave said Romney may get a “slight bump” from the debate but that she still supports the president. “He cares about people,” she said. “I think he will do what he says he would.”
At the Colorado Conservative Political Action Committee meeting, Romney savored his debate victory after weeks of campaign missteps and bad publicity.
Flanked by four of his five sons, Romney launched into a detailed look at his philosophy, saying the debate offered “two very different visions for the country.”
Obama, he said, offers “trickle-down government,” which leads to tax increases and job loss. If the U.S. continues down that path, Romney said, “there’s no question … the middle class will continue to be buried with higher and higher expenses for gasoline, for food, for utilities, for health insurance.”
He ticked off a list of other ideas: More domestic energy production, more cuts in government spending, fewer defense cuts.
“We should instead take a course represented by freedom, which says we’re going to finally get America to cap our spending … and get us on track to a balanced budget,” Romney said.
State Sen. Kevin Grantham of Canyon City, who attended the gathering, said Romney “certainly continued the momentum from last night.”
“When a candidate exudes confidence and leadership like that, he generates a certain enthusiasm,” he said.