Obama camp fights to hold edge
Backers of US president Barack Obama scrambled to keep his edge in the presidential race today after rival Mitt Romney's aggressive debate performance put his campaign on a more positive footing after weeks of setbacks.
The president, looking restrained and at times displeased, did not seize opportunities to attack the Republican challenger on his business record at Bain Capital, the "47 per cent" video and his refusal to release more income tax returns.
That enabled Mr Romney to stay on the offensive throughout the two men's first head-to-head meeting in the campaign for the November 6th election.
Democrats tried to put a brave face on Mr Obama's muted appearance. They acknowledged the former Massachusetts governor had scored "style points" but criticised him on substance.
"Governor Romney came to give a performance and he gave a good performance and we will give him credit for that. The problem with it is that none of it was rooted in fact," Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod told reporters.
The engaged and forceful showing from a candidate often labelled wooden and out of touch delivered a jolt of energy into Mr Romney's flagging campaign that might cut into Obama's slim but steady lead in opinion polls.
Analysts said they still favoured the Democratic president's re-election chances.
"Nobody is going to switch sides on the basis of this debate," said Samuel Popkin, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego.
Mr Axelrod accused Mr Romney of repeated factual errors, such as insisting Mr Obama would cut $716 billion from Medicare, and of changing positions on important issues.
"Again and again and again, he told a story to the American people that is completely in contrast with what he said before and unfounded in fact. And that's going to catch up with him," Mr Axelrod told MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
In Europe, where leaders and finance officials have worked closely with the Obama administration over the past 2 1/2 years to resolve the euro debt crisis, there was consternation at Mr Romney's singling out of deficit-ridden Spain as a poorly administered economy.
"Romney is making analogies that aren't based on reality," Spanish foreign affairs minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said after a meeting of his party.
France's Le Monde newspaper appeared surprised by Mr Obama's sub-par performance. "Where did the favourite go?" it asked on its front page.
The candidates were jumping right back onto the campaign trail today with rallies in
Colorado, Wisconsin and Virginia - three closely contested states where the election is likely to be decided.
Within hours of the debate, Republicans launched a string of new ads hoping to capitalise on Mr Romney's momentum. One had him presenting his plan for creating 12 million new jobs. Another, aired in Wisconsin by the Super PAC Restore Our
Future, called on voters to demand better than Obama's "new normal" economy.
The Republican National Committee compiled a web video that zoomed in on Mr Obama smirking during the debate as Mr Romney jabbed him on healthcare and economic policies.
Going into the debate, Mr Obama held a lead of 5 to 6 percentage points over Mr Romney in most national polls, and is ahead by at least narrow margins in almost all the battleground states where the election will be decided.
He was up by 6 points among likely voters in Wednesday's Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll, leading by 47 percent to Romney's 41 per cent, a margin that has held fairly steady since mid-September.
Mr Obama next squares off with Mr Romney on October 16th in Hempstead, New York, in a "town meeting" format during which voters will directly question the candidates. The third and last presidential debate is set for October 22nd in Florida.
The only vice presidential debate, between vice president Joe Biden and Ryan, will be next Thursday in Danville, Kentucky.
Even Democratic pundits sharply criticised Mr Obama for looking grim on the stage, giving answers that were meandering and professorial and, most of all, for not hitting back.