President Barack Obama, needing a strong performance in his next debate against Mitt Romney, is moving to reassure supporters that his campaign is on track while casting his opponent as aligned with the Republican Party’s most ideological wing.
In speeches, fundraisers, interviews, television ads and through surrogates including former President Bill Clinton, Obama is trying to sow doubts about Romney among swing voters by questioning his sincerity on how to pay for a $5 trillion tax- cut plan and whether he would push to outlaw abortion. At the same time, Obama wants to quell concerns about his own strategy among Democrats anxious that the race is slipping away.
“I was just too polite,” Obama told radio host Tom Joyner, referring to criticism of his performance in his Oct. 3 debate in Denver against Romney. In the interview aired yesterday, he promised to be more aggressive in future debates, saying he would call out the Republican nominee on what he sees as inconsistencies.
“By next week I think a lot of the hand-wringing will be complete,” Obama, who will debate Romney Oct. 16 in Hempstead, New York, said of his supporters concerns.
Obama aides want some of those concerns to be put to rest tonight when Vice President Joe Biden and Romney running mate Paul Ryan square off in a debate in Danville, Kentucky. Both sides spent yesterday preparing, with Biden in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, and Ryan telling reporters traveling with him in St. Petersburg, Florida, that he was “nervous” to make his debut on a national debate stage.
The fresh round of Democratic defense comes as Romney has gained ground in national polls while tempering his remarks and tone of his campaign to appeal to undecided voters.
“My whole passion is about helping the American people who are struggling right now,” the former Massachusetts governor told voters gathered on the factory floor of manufacturing company in Mount Vernon, Ohio.
In an effort by his campaign to moderate its positions for swing voters, Romney played down his plans to fight abortion rights -- a rallying cry for many in his party -- telling the Des Moines Register editorial board on Oct. 9 that he wouldn’t pursue anti-abortion legislation if elected.
At a campaign stop yesterday in Delaware, Ohio, Romney clarified, saying “I’ll be a pro-life president” after the Obama campaign seized on Romney’s Des Moines comments.
And in a new campaign ad, Romney pledged not to raise taxes on any Americans. The commercial was intended to rebut Obama’s claim that Romney’s proposal to cut taxes by $5 trillion would mean higher taxes for the middle class.
“The president would prefer raising taxes,” Romney is shown saying in an exchange from last week’s debate. “I’m not going to raise taxes on anyone.”
Democrats charged Romney with trying to conceal his true position on abortion to win voters in the final weeks of the race.
“This is another example of Governor Romney hiding positions he’s been campaigning on for a year and a half,” Obama told ABC News for an interview that aired yesterday.
The president’s strategy represents a return to the focus of the Obama team during the primary when Democrats portrayed Romney as an anti-tax, anti-abortion candidate eager to promote a rigid Republican ideology.
Now, with 27 days left in the race, Obama and his supporters are trying to make a case that voters don’t know what they would get with Romney.
In remarks distributed yesterday by the Obama campaign, former President Clinton told an audience in Nevada that Romney’s closing-weeks strategy is to “show up with a sunny face and say I didn’t say all that stuff I said the last two years.”
Romney, Clinton said, is acting like “old moderate Mitt” who served as governor of Massachusetts rather than “severe, conservative Mitt” who won the Republican nomination for president.
Still, a week after Obama’s widely criticized performance in the first presidential debate, Romney could claim some momentum as he traveled across Ohio, a crucial swing state. No Republican has won the White House without carrying Ohio.
“This is terrific,” Romney told reporters in Delaware, Ohio, yesterday as he made his way through a restaurant packed with enthusiastic supporters. “Love it.”
An Oct. 9 rally in Cuyahoga Falls drew more than 10,000 supporters chanting “four more weeks” -- a reference to the time they have to defeat Obama at the polls.
The reception -- and shifting poll numbers -- have energized Republicans and quieted the concerns of some who had questioned his commitment to party ideology.
“Any attempts to get pro-life people unhappy with him aren’t going to work because the alternative is Mr. Obama,” said Richard Land, an anti-abortion conservative and president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “Most pro- lifers I know are ready to crawl on their hands and knees through broken glass and stick their hands in a rattlesnake pit to vote against Barack Obama.”
After initially brushing off his debate performance, Obama began mentioning it on Oct. 7 in Los Angeles during a two-day fundraising swing through California.
At a fundraising concert with 6,000 guests, Obama thanked stars supporting him who he said “perform flawlessly night after night,” adding, “I can’t always say the same.”
In the Joyner interview, Obama rejected the notion that he blew a solid lead with a weak debate performance.
“Governor Romney kept on making mistakes month after month so it made it look artificially like this might end up being a cake walk,” Obama said. “But we understood internally that it never would be, that it was going to tighten.”
To contact the reporters on this story: Lisa Lerer in Sidney, Ohio, at email@example.com; Margaret Talev in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at email@example.com