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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Obama and Romney Back on Trail After Caustic Debate

President Obama jogged to the stage at the beginning of his campaign event at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. The president was on a one-day campaign trip through Iowa and Ohio on Wednesday.Damon Winter/The New York Times President Obama jogged to the stage at the beginning of his campaign event at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa. The president was on a one-day campaign trip through Iowa and Ohio on Wednesday.

MOUNT VERNON, Iowa â€" President Obama and Mitt Romney took to the road on Wednesday to capitalize on their fiery second debate, with Mr. Obama's muscular performance recharging supporters in the state that propelled him to the presidency in 2008.

Speaking to a raucous crowd of 2,000 at Cornell College here, an ener gized Mr. Obama claimed that Mr. Romney's tax proposals did not add up, that his job plan would not create jobs, and that his deficit-reduction proposals would only add to the deficit.

“Everybody here's heard of the New Deal, you've heard of the fair deal, you've heard of the square deal,” Mr. Obama said, reprising a jab he used against Mr. Romney in the debate. “Mitt Romney is trying to sell you a sketchy deal.”

Sharpening his pitch to female voters, the president said Mr. Romney had not advocated equal pay or unrestricted health care services for women. And he lampooned Mr. Romney's line in the debate about collecting “binders full of women” when he was searching for qualified women to serve in his cabinet in Massachusetts.

“We don't have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women, ready to work and teach in these fields right now,” Mr. Obama said, referring to the need for more women in engineering, scie nce and technology.

Mr. Obama campaigned energetically after his listless performance in the first debate, as well, drawing 30,000 people to a rally in Madison, Wis. But that rally had the feeling of a support group, with the party faithful bucking up a favored son in a time of need. On Wednesday, the last thing Mr. Obama needed was a pick-me-up.

“I'm still trying to figure out how to get the hang of this thing â€" debating,” Mr. Obama said with a chuckle. “We'll keep on improving as time goes on. I've got one left.”

The president's visit to Iowa was part of the campaign's aggressive early-voting effort. Mr. Obama implored students to cast early ballots as part of the campaign's College Takeover this week at schools across the state. A satellite voting site was set up at a library across the campus, where students could vote on Wednesday.

An Iowa law, which election observers say is the only one of its kind in the country, allows a campaign to gather 100 signatures and petition election officials to create a temporary voting location to serve a particular constituency. The Obama campaign has taken full advantage of this law and weeks ago requested a voting site here in Mount Vernon. Early voting has been under way in the state since Sept. 27.

The president's fiery performance on Tuesday lifted the spirits of his supporters in Iowa, some of whom had grown worried after his first encounter with Mr. Romney. “He had so much energy and was just so much better,” said Wendy Willits, 47, a supporter from Lisbon, Iowa. “It was what I expected to see at the first debate.”

For Mr. Obama, Iowa is rich in symbolism: his underdog victory in the 2008 Iowa caucuses gave his presidential candidacy legitimacy. But it is also an important piece of the electoral puzzle of battleground states this time around.

Karen and Stuart Hartlep, retired teachers from Cedar Rapids, have be en volunteering for the president's campaign for most of the year. They said the mood among Obama supporters fell after the Oct. 3 debate in Denver.

“There was disappointment, but not despair,” Mr. Hartlep, 62, said as he waited to see Mr. Obama. He said that he had assured supporters that the president would deliver a stronger performance in his second debate. “He was great, wasn't he?”

For Mr. Obama's aides, there was more relief than exuberance. They believe that the second debate essentially reset the race to where they long expected it to be: the president holding a narrow lead in enough battleground states to let him eke out a victory over Mr. Romney.

David Plouffe, one of Mr. Obama's chief strategists, told reporters after the debate that “our position has not really changed.” The president, he said, was drawing the same share of the vote in battlegrounds like Ohio, Nevada and Iowa that he had before the first debate, which Mr. Romney was perceived to have dominated.

Mr. Romney had closed the polling gap in several of these states, Mr. Plouffe said, but he insisted that these involved Republican-leaning independent voters whom the Republican candidate would have corralled anyway, though perhaps not as quickly.