An energized President Barack Obama came out swinging on a chilly Thursday morning at a park in Denver and landed some of the punches that critics say he pulled the night before in his debate with Mitt Romney.
“When I got onto the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney,” Obama told the crowd. “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. The fellow on stage last night said he didn’t know anything about that.”
Under gray, wintery skies at Sloan’s Lake Park a crowd of more than 12,000 supporters, many clad in scarves and mittens, whooped its approval as Obama reeled off the kind of rejoinders he had left unspoken when he stood feet away from Romney on Wednesday night.
“The real Mitt Romney said we do not need any more teachers in the classroom, but the fellow on stage said he loves teachers, can’t get enough of them,” Obama said. “The Mitt Romney we all know invested in companies that were called ‘pioneers of outsourcing’ jobs to other countries, but the guy on stage last night, he said that he doesn’t even know that there are such laws that encourage outsourcing — has never heard of them, never heard of them, never heard of tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.”
It was the same candidate — dynamic, with an infectious enthusiasm and a frequent smile — who has spoken at nine rallies in Colorado this year, but that Obama was nowhere to be found at the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, where an aggressive and voluble Romney stood in stark contrast to his opponent, who appeared distracted and annoyed at the lectern.
In an attempt to rebound from a debate performance even strong supporters acknowledged was lackluster, Obama said it was clear which candidate they can believe.
“You see, the man on stage last night, he does not want to be held accountable for the real Mitt Romney’s decisions and what he’s been saying for the last year. And that’s because he knows full well that we don’t want what he’s been selling for the last year,” he said, adding, “Gov. Romney may dance around his positions, but if you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth.”
It was a point first raised by former Denver Mayor Federico Peña, who reminded the crowd that they were gathered on his old stomping grounds, inside the house district he once represented.
“I was so proud of the president,” he said. “First of all, he told the truth. And believe me, my friends, the truth counts. There was somebody else who showed up at that debate last night, and he apparently has remade himself. I call him the New Mitt Romney, the new Etch-a-Sketch candidate.”
Ticking off a series of statements Romney had made during the debate, Peña engaged the crowd in a lengthy call-and-response.
“Do you believe the new Mitt Romney?” he asked. “No!” they responded, again and again.
The rally’s musical warm-up, Black Eyed Peas DJ will.i.am., sounded a similar note, wrapping his early morning set with an extended remix of a Journey tune and repeating the song’s title, telling the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, don’t stop believing.”
After arguing that voters shouldn’t believe what Romney said at the debate, Obama told the crowd, “I still believe in you, and I’m asking you to keep believing in me.”
He also got in a dig at Romney for the one line from the debate that ricocheted around the Internet.
“When asked what he would do to reduce the deficit, he said he would cut funding to public television,” Obama said. “That was his answer. Thank goodness somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird. It’s about time. We didn’t know that Big Bird was driving the federal deficit.”
A member of the crowd shouted, “And Elmo?” Smiling, the president added, “Elmo too.”
About a half hour before Obama took the stage, Romney popped up unexpectedly across town at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference under way at a hotel near Denver International Airport. Joining four of his five sons on the CPAC stage, Romney said the debate had been “a great opportunity for the American people to see two very different visions for the country.”
One, he said, was an ever-growing government turning the country more like Europe. The other “is a path that returns America to America, where we restore the principles of freedom and hope and opportunity that this nation has always been built upon.”
Romney spokesman Ryan Williams swung back at Obama’s remarks in a statement issued before Air Force One had lifted off for another rally in Wisconsin.
“In full damage-control mode, President Obama today offered no defense of his record and no vision for the future,” Williams said. “Rather than a plan to fix our economy, President Obama simply offered more false attacks and renewed his call for job-killing tax hikes.”
See Oct. 5, 2012 print edition for full photo coverage.