Republicans Thrilled With Romney's Debate Showing

Audie Cornish speaks with Mara Liasson about Wednesday night's first presidential debate in Denver.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. The reviews are in and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney walked off the debate stage last night in Denver in much stronger shape than when he walked on. His spirited performance in the first of three presidential debates provided a stark contrast to a somewhat languid President Obama.

The two debated a host of domestic issues, from the role of government to health and tax policy. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson joins us now to talk about last night's debate and to look forward. And Mara, the Romney campaign must be pretty pleased with their candidate's performance last night, given the headlines today. What are Republicans saying about it?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, they're absolutely thrilled. They really feel this debate performance gave Romney a new lease on life. And if you consider the alternative, he was very close to being written off and I think if he had turned in a poor performance, donors would have started deserting him. But now, he's got a chance to reset the race and the question is, how does he take advantage of this? He's giving a foreign policy speech on Monday.

And the question is, how does he build on this good performance? He even had conservatives cheering him. Eric Erikson(ph) tweeted today that Romney might be an Etch-a-Sketch, but it sure beats the hell out of Obama's Whack-a-Mole. So in the battle of the toy metaphors, conservatives are very happy.

BLOCK: Now, on a number of issues from taxes to healthcare, Governor Romney painted a relatively moderate picture of what his administration would look like. And what's been the pushback on that?

LIASSON: Well, this is what the Obama campaign is focusing on today. You know, President Obama was on the campaign trail saying he met a new Mitt Romney last night. The Obama campaign this morning in a conference call said the day after the big question is one of character. They've already cut a new ad called "Trust." They say that their communications over the next couple of days are gonna be an effort to make sure that voters know what positions Romney danced around.

On health care, taxes, the deficit, in a whole raft of things he seemed to be presenting a more moderate point of view than he has on the stump so far.

BLOCK: And to talk about President Obama a little bit more, even his supporters say that the president was off his game. And what did the campaign have to say about that today?

LIASSON: Well, they didn't have a very good explanation for why the president didn't use any of the obvious attack lines, why he didn't bring up the 47 percent or immigration or Bain Capital or women's issues. They said that he wasn't as focused and insistent as Romney was on driving particular lines last night. And then the obvious question is, well, why not? They were asked whether he would do more prep in the future.

We know that Romney prepped intensively for this. The president had less time and they said they are going to reevaluate, see what else they need to do. They said this is the first time the president got a chance to see Romney's routine up close and obviously they're going to rethink some things before the next debate.

BLOCK: But do they give any sense that there'd be adjustments?

LIASSON: Yes. I think they are going to consider having him do more debate prep, different kinds of debate prep. And don't forget, the bar was very high for the president. Most people thought he would win and they've said all along that incumbents usually lose the first debate. Still, this was not helpful for the president.

BLOCK: Lastly, Mara, what have you learned about the public's reaction to last night's debate?

LIASSON: Well, we know that the public reacted much in the same way that the pundits did, that Romney, quote, "won" this debate. What we don't know is what impact that will have on how people make decisions about who to vote for. We haven't seen polling yet that shows that the race is tightening nationally or in battleground states. I wouldn't be surprised if it does.

But there's a big difference between thinking someone won a debate and switching your vote because there are so few truly undecided voters this year and the electorate is so polarized. People are so set in their positions. We haven't seen much movement in the polls at all.

BLOCK: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.

LIASSON: Thank you.

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