Romney Camp Tempers GOP's Post-Debate Revelry

Romney Camp Tempers GOP's Post-Debate Revelry

By Scott Conroy - October 5, 2012

DENVER -- Shortly after taking the stage at the CPAC Colorado conference on Thursday, former Congressman Artur Davis channeled the joyous mood of the conservative activists who had gathered here a day after Mitt Romney's strong debate performance -- and President Obama’s surprisingly lackluster one.

“What a difference 90 minutes without a teleprompter makes!” Davis bellowed, the crowd roaring its approval of the oft-repeated charge that the president appears hapless without the electronic device.

After Romney’s showing Wednesday night was almost universally praised, there was plenty of reason for his backers to feel optimistic about a race that in recent weeks seemed to be slipping from the Republican’s grasp.

But knowing that Obama has two debate opportunities to rebound, the Romney camp has stored away whatever proverbial bottles of champagne were popped after the Denver face-off.

Next time, they expect Obama to bring his “A” game.

Having spent the better part of the last six years on the presidential campaign trail, hoping to position himself for a win next month, Romney was in no mood to gloat on Thursday.

Before Davis spoke, the nominee made a surprise visit to the conservative confab and was given a hero’s welcome by many of the same activists who, during the primary season, were skeptical that he was the candidate best equipped to debate Obama.

Upon taking the stage, Romney mouthed the words “thank you” several times before the boisterous crowd finally quieted. Once they did, the former Massachusetts governor sought to build on his newfound momentum while also trying to understate the debate victory.

“Last night, I thought, was a great opportunity for the American people to see two very different visions for the country,” Romney said. “And I think it was helpful to be able to describe those visions.”

Snapshot polls taken immediately after the debate confirmed that Romney was widely perceived as the winner, but far less certain was whether and how much poll numbers will move in his favor in the critical battleground states where he has fallen behind.

In the expectations game that was waged ahead of the debate, the Obama campaign stressed the extent to which the demands of the president’s day job had kept him from preparing as much as he would have liked.

On Thursday, senior strategist David Axelrod conceded that Obama’s performance may have cost him the support of some key voters, but he noted that the electoral math continues to favor the president. Still, Axelrod suggested that Obama would alter his strategy and be more forceful in the second and third debates.

“Obviously, moving forward, we are going to take a hard look at this,” he said. “We are going to have to make some judgments about where to draw the lines in these debates and how to use our time.”

The candidates have another 12 days to prepare before their Oct. 16 face-off at Hofstra University, on Long Island.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman -- who has received glowing accolades from fellow Republicans for playing Obama in mock debates with the GOP nominee -- said in the post-debate spin room that he fully expects Obama to be more aggressive the next time the opponents meet.

Wasting little time transitioning back into expectations-lowering mode, Portman said he intended to prepare Romney to face a more combative Obama, whom he figures will benefit from the more freewheeling format at Hofstra (audience members will ask questions of the candidates).

“I think the town-hall format’s going to be good for the president,” Portman said.

Perhaps just as importantly, Portman also sought to tamp down his fellow Republicans’ anticipation of a swift and dramatic swing in the polls in Romney’s direction.

“I think the most important thing about [Wednesday’s debate] is not moving numbers,” Portman said. “It’s undecided voters -- and, by the way, there’s a lot more of them than people say -- being more receptive now to Mitt Romney’s message.” 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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