Obama Focused, Energetic After Second Debate

President Obama traveled to Iowa Wednesday morning to meet with voters after Tuesday night's second presidential debate.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. President Obama stood today in Iowa, in front of a crowd of enthusiastic college students, and struck a seemingly humble pose about last night's debate.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You know, I'm still trying to figure out, you know, how to get the hang of this thing, debating. But we're working on it.

BLOCK: Humility aside, it was Mr. Obama's turn to celebrate after a far more feisty debate performance than in his first outing against Mitt Romney. The president was under pressure after slipping in the polls over the past two weeks.

SIEGEL: Well, today both candidates returned to the routine of swing state rallies and we're going to hear from our correspondents traveling with both of them. First, to NPR's Scott Horsley, who was on the road with the president.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama recapped some of the highlights of the debate for a crowd of 2,000 in a sweltering college gym this afternoon. Speaking at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, Mr. Obama underscored his efforts to help women get equal pay in the workplace, an area where Governor Romney may have stumbled last night.

OBAMA: I've got to tell you, we don't have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women ready to learn and teach in these fields right now.

HORSLEY: Last night's strong performance was a tonic for the president's supporters like Steven Lucas(ph), a pipefitter who joined others at a union hall in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to watch the debate. Lucas said he was anxious to see a more aggressive president than he had in Denver two week earlier.

STEVEN LUCAS: I didn't want him to be timid. I didn't want him to be too nice. I wanted him to show some gumption.

HORSLEY: After 90 minutes, Lucas said the president had met that bar and then some.

LUCAS: Absolutely. Tickled pink. And I think that the American public in general will respond to that. He's got his mojo back, so to speak.

HORSLEY: This crowd cheered when Mr. Obama mentioned the thousands of wind energy jobs in Iowa, some of which could be in jeopardy without the tax credit Governor Romney opposes. They also cheered when Mr. Obama went after his Republican rival's tax plan, saying as an investor, Romney himself would insist on seeing more details.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE)

OBAMA: You wouldn't have taken such a sketchy deal. And neither should you, the American people.

(CHEERING)

HORSLEY: Finally, someone in the crowd said. These voters are suspicious of Governor Romney's plan that he could offset the cost of his tax cut by closing unspecified tax loopholes without increasing the deficit or costing the middle class more. Mike Olson(ph) is with the electrical workers union.

MIKE OLSON: I'm 60 - gonna be 63 years old and I've seen snake oil sold before. And I don't mean to be so harsh on Mr. Romney, but I'm seeing snake oil being sold again.

HORSLEY: This is clearly a partisan crowd and it'll take several days before we know how the debate moved undecided voters, if at all. The Iowa backers say the focused, energetic man on stage last night was the Barack Obama they rallied behind four years ago. Linda Langston(ph) was relieved to see Mr. Obama go after what she considers Governor Romney's misstatements.

LINDA LANGSTON: I mean, oh, my god, even Candy Crowley had to confront some of them, they were so outrageous.

HORSLEY: The CNN moderator weighed in last night on the subject of last month's attack in Libya in which four Americans were killed. Crowley confirmed that Mr. Obama had used the phrase "act of terror" the day after the attack, which seemed to surprise Governor Romney. Republicans have pointed to that attack as an indictment of the president's broader foreign policy in the region. But Langston says Mr. Obama managed to turn a potential liability into one of the debates most memorable moments.

LANGSTON: He let him know, I am the president and I'm the one that sends these orders. And yes, the buck does stop here and I am the one that meets these coffins when they come home. That, to me, was a completely different tenor and a completely different perspective, in a good way.

HORSLEY: The president will now try to build on that strong performance. He has more campaign rallies this week in Ohio, New Hampshire and Virginia before the final debate next week in Florida. Scott Horsley, NPR News, traveling with the president.

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