DENVER -- Trying to recover from a bruising debate performance, President Obama hit hard at his GOP rival on Thursday morning, saying the man at the other podium last night was some new candidate rather than the “real Mitt Romney.”
“When I got on to the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney," Obama said. "But it couldn’t have been Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. But the fellow on stage last night said he didn’t know anything about that.”
“The guy on stage last night, he said that he doesn’t even know that there are such laws that encourage outsourcing, never heard of it.... He said that if it’s true he must need a new accountant. Now we know for sure it was not the real Mitt Romney because he seems to be doing just fine with his current accountant.”
PHOTOS: Memorable presidential debate moments
The Obama who showed up jabbing Thursday morning was far more spirited than the subdued and unfocused president who took the stage Wednesday night in the first of three presidential debates before election day. At times, Obama seemed to struggle to explain some of his own policies, and missed numerous opportunities to hit Romney with the criticisms he regularly lodges on the stump.
In a rally at Sloan’s Lake Park before about 12,000 people, the president delivered some of the comebacks he failed to deliver last night as he was pummeled by his rival. Noting Romney’s promise to cut funding for PBS -- even though he said he loves Big Bird -- as part of his vow to trim the size of government to help cut the deficit, Obama pounced.
“Thank god somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird," he said. "We didn’t know that Big Bird was driving the federal deficit. Elmo, too?”
The president’s remarks helped perk up an otherwise low-key crowd. Whether it was the chilly temperature, the early hour or Obama's dispiriting debate performance, the event had the feel of a hangover. Even the surefire staples of the 2008 campaign felt different, loaded with reminders that the debate had energized the Romney camp and created new obstacles for Obama's reelection campaign.
Hip-hop star Will.i.am warmed up the crowd, offering earnest remarks about how Obama has changed his life, but also a somewhat sheepish nod to the debate: “I know it sounds funny,” he said. “We need PBS. I’m sorry.”
“Bring the energy up. I know people are low; I know it’s cold,” he said, after playing his hit, "It's a New Day."
Obama supporters in the audience were blunt about their assessment, if forgiving.
PHOTOS: Scenes from the first presidential debate
“Obama looked a little bit off his game,” said Esther Tipton, a 46-year-old former teacher. “But I think it just means Obama has really got to come out and blast him on the next one.”
Sen. Mark Udall, (D-Colo.) said he was unsure why Obama made no mention of Romney’s record running Bain Capital, or his remarks disparaging 47% of Americans, and why Obama seemed to pull his punches on Romney's policy shifts.
“Almost every position on every policy matter Gov. Romney has taken, I think the president could have pointed that out last night. And I look for him to do so in the future,” said Udall, who added that plenty of Democrats would be offering advice Thursday morning. “They’re getting an earful, but look, it’s always easy to be a Monday morning – or Thursday morning – quarterback.”
Edward Choury, a waste water treatment operator, brought his 18-year-old daughter, Allyssa Choury, to the outdoor rally and both said they were unimpressed with Obama’s performance – although they didn’t score Romney much better. They said they remain undecided.
“For me, for one of them to win you have to talk specifics,” Edward Choury said. “I heard broad topics, but I didn’t hear specifics on taxes about what they can do to make it so middle income people are bringing in more in their paychecks.”
DEBATE QUIZ: Who said it?
“In full damage-control mode, President Obama today offered no defense of his record and no vision for the future. Rather than a plan to fix our economy, President Obama simply offered more false attacks and renewed his call for job-killing tax hikes," Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said in response to Obama's remarks. "Last night, Mitt Romney demonstrated why he should be president, laying out the clear choice in this election. We can’t afford four more years of the last four years. We need a real recovery – and Mitt Romney has a real plan to deliver it.”
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