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Presidential debate: Obama needs to be tougher, supporters say

October 04, 2012|By Christi Parsons
  • President Obama listens to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in their first debate at the University of Denver.
President Obama listens to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney… (Michael Reynolds / AFP/Getty…)

The morning after President Obama’s low-key performance in the first debate with Mitt Romney, a top aide acknowledged that Obama needs to “strike a balance” between looking like a nice guy and letting the Republican walk all over him.

In an after-action session with reporters Thursday, senior strategist David Axelrod said the president went into the debate hoping to avoid a situation in which he and Romney stood there “insulting each other” all night.

But Obama can’t allow Romney to “manhandle the truth” without countering it, Axelrod said, conceding that it is a “take-away from this debate” for the Obama team.

Both critics and friends of Obama are casting the president’s debate performance in less complimentary terms, questioning why he didn’t offer a more spirited defense of his administration or go after Romney more vigorously on points of fact.

PHOTOS: Memorable presidential debate moments

Rather than conceding a lackluster showing by the professor-turned-president, Axelrod and Obama policy director James Kvaal instead went after Romney’s statements as distortions and outright falsehoods. Romney is a "serial evader" and an "artful dodger," Axelrod said.

Among other things, they questioned Romney’s assertions that he could repeal Obamacare but still keep costs down and cover preexisting conditions and that he could grant tax cuts while cutting the deficit.

“What we learned is that he’ll say anything,” Axelrod said of Romney. “That makes him effective in the short term but vulnerable in the long run.”

Moments after the call with reporters, Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg dashed off a note comparing the session to the president’s debate performance.

“The campaign, like the president, offered no defense of the president’s first-term record or vision for a second term, and instead, offered nothing but false attacks, petulant statements, and lies about Gov. Romney’s record,” she wrote.

PHOTOS: Scenes from the first presidential debate

Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt said the president’s team will set to work right away on what it sees as correcting the record.

But the first order of business, though unstated, was clear: to answer critiques of the president’s performance while also signaling to supporters that it will get better next time around.

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christi.parsons@latimes.com

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