DENVER -- Exultant Republicans celebrated Mitt Romney's strong debate performance Thursday as a badly needed turn of fortune, saying he had rescued his presidential campaign and offered new hope to GOP candidates up and down the ballot. U.S. President Barack Obama attacked his rival, in essence, as a fraud.
A buoyant Romney paid a surprise visit to a gathering of conservatives in Denver, just before flying to the swing state of Virginia.
He said the debate had presented Americans with a distinct choice: between "larger and larger, more and more intrusive" government and "freedom, hope and opportunity."
Just a few kilometres away, Obama tore into his rival with a passion notably lacking Wednesday night on the University of Denver stage.
"It couldn't have been the real Mitt Romney" at the debate, Obama said at a chilly outdoor rally, "because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favour the wealthy. But the fellow on stage last night said he didn't know anything about that." The president later headed to Wisconsin, where he largely repeated the charge.
The big question of whether the debate -- with a viewership of more than 67 million -- shifted the momentum from Obama and turned the race back to a neck-and-neck contest will be unclear for at least several more days. Polls taken immediately after an event such as Wednesday night's tend to overstate the impact, and perceptions can shift as clips of the debate are replayed and the claims and counterclaims are weighed against the facts.
The fundamentals of the contest -- a larger and better-funded Obama campaign operation and a sizable Democratic advantage among women and Latino voters, among other things -- were not transformed overnight.
But, at the least, his showing in the debate gave the GOP nominee a badly needed jolt of momentum and offered a reason for undecided and still-persuadable voters to take a more favourable look at the ex-Massachusetts governor.
"Let's face it," said Dick Wadhams, a past chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, "Romney was on the verge of losing this race before the debate, but he more than rose to the occasion."
Chastened Obama advisers tacitly acknowledged as much by saying the president -- whose performance was perceived by many as alternately listless and long-winded -- would do things differently when the candidates meet again Oct. 16. David Axelrod, the president's chief campaign strategist, said Obama went into the debate hoping to avoid trading insults with Romney. But, Axelrod added, the president would not allow Romney to "manhandle the truth."
Among other things, Romney during the debate minimized the impact his tax and spending plans would have on middle-class and poorer Americans and avoided detailing aspects of his health care plan polls have found Americans do not support.
-- Los Angeles Times