Wis. Crowd Welcomes Obama After Lackluster Debate

President Obama's campaign acknowledges that GOP challenger Mitt Romney had the stronger performance in this week's debate. One of Obama's closest advisers acknowledges the president will "have to adjust" his approach to future debates.

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After that debate performance that dismayed many Democrats, President Obama's campaign is accusing Romney of having a sudden makeover. Mr. Obama delivered that message yesterday at post-debate rallies in Colorado and Wisconsin. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting) Four more years, four more years, four more years.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: One way to get beyond a lackluster debate performance is to surround yourself with adoring fans, and President Obama did just that yesterday, addressing 30,000 supporters in Madison, Wisconsin - his biggest rally of the year.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is an unbelievable crowd.

HORSLEY: The president quickly tried to undermine the winning persona that Governor Romney showcased in the debate, arguing the moderate man he found himself sharing the stage with Wednesday bears little resemblance to the severe conservative who emerged from the Republican primaries.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: Because the real Mitt Romney's been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy, and yet the fellow on the stage last night, who looked like Mitt Romney, said he did not know anything about that.

HORSLEY: The president and his aides insist Governor Romney has not really abandoned his plans to cut taxes to the rich or roll back regulations. He's just stopped talking about policies that aren't very popular. Mr. Obama promised to hold Romney accountable for the positions he's taken throughout the campaign. If you want to be president, he said, you owe the American people the truth.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: So here's the truth: Governor Romney cannot pay for his $5 trillion tax plan without blowing up the deficit or sticking it to the middle class. We can't afford to go down that road again.

HORSLEY: But if the president seemed eager to challenge his Republican rival yesterday in front of 30,000 people in Madison, why not Wednesday night before a TV audience of nearly 70 million? Aides say Mr. Obama decided ahead of time not to engage in serial fact-checking during the debate for fear it would never end. But political advisor David Plouffe says it could be different the next time the two men meet.

DAVID PLOUFFE: We are going to have to adjust going forward, simply because it's clear that Romney will try and say anything to get a political advantage in the moment. We're going to make sure people understand what he will do as president. Those cuts in education, the vouchers for Medicare, the huge tax cuts for the wealthy paid for by the middle class for exploding the deficit - this is what he's going to do.

HORSLEY: The plan to replace Medicare with a voucher for future retirees is one policy Governor Romney did not back away from during the debate. Mr. Obama promises to keep reminding voters of that difference.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: I will never turn Medicare into a voucher. Governor Romney doubled down on that proposal last night, and he is wrong. No American should have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies. They should retire with the care and the dignity that they have earned.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama complained during and after the debate about the lack of specifics from Governor Romney. His plan for deficit reduction, for example, relies entirely on spending cuts. But the other concrete cut Romney identified Wednesday was federal funding for public television.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

OBAMA: I just want to make sure I got this straight: He'll get rid of regulations of Wall Street, but he's going to crack down on Sesame Street.

HORSLEY: Mr. Obama's supporters were glad to see his feisty campaign side reemerge. Daniella Moody admits she was disappointed by the president's performance during the debate.

DANIELLA MOODY: I think he wasn't as prepared as he could have been. He wasn't on top of his A game.

HORSLEY: But the University of Wisconsin senior says even if Mr. Obama lost the debate, it won't change her vote in November.

MOODY: No, I won't vote for Romney. Not at all. I'll support Obama till the end.

HORSLEY: That's not surprising in this liberal college town. Both the president and Governor Romney will be watching closely to see if Wednesday's faceoff and the coverage that follows moves swing voters elsewhere in the battleground. Scott Horsley, NPR News.

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