President Barack Obama’s backers scrambled to keep his edge in the presidential race on Thursday 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 percent” video and his refusal to release more income tax returns. That enabled Romney to stay on the offensive throughout the two men’s first head-to-head meeting in the campaign for the November 6 election.
Democrats tried to put a brave face on Obama’s muted appearance. They acknowledged the former Massachusetts governor had scored “style points” but criticized 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 criticized as wooden and out of touch delivered a jolt of energy into 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.
Axelrod accused Romney of repeated factual errors, such as insisting 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 was completely in contrast with what he said before and unfounded in fact. And that’s going to catch up with him,” Axelrod told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
In Europe, where leaders and finance officials have worked closely with the Obama administration over the past two and half years to resolve the euro debt crisis, there was consternation at Romney’s singling out of deficit-ridden Spain as a poorly administered economy. “Romney is making analogies that aren’t based on reality,” Foreign Affairs Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said after a meeting of his centre-right party.