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Sunday, October 7, 2012

On Fund-Raising Tour, Obama Admits Poor Debate Showing


LOS ANGELES â€" President Obama joined the chorus of critics who have been slamming his debate performance, acknowledging on Sunday night before a star-studded fund-raiser that he may have flubbed the face-to-face standoff with Mitt Romney last week.

Appearing at the Nokia Theater after a concert where Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, Jennifer Hudson, Katy Perry and Jon Bon Jovi performed, Mr. Obama complimented the entertainers for their flawless presentations. Then, he added, “I can't always say the same.”

The joke at his own expense comes as Mr. Obama and his campaign continue to try to recover from the debate. The president, seeking to add to his already strong fund-raising totals last mo nth, exhorted wealthy and staunchly Democratic donors to continue their support, painting a picture of an economy in the United States that is making a comeback.

“On Friday we found out the unemployment rate has fallen from the height of 10 percent to 7.8 percent, the lowest since I took office,” Mr. Obama said, to cheers. “Manufacturing is coming back.”

Mr. Obama is on a two-day fund-raising swing in California, a state he has visited only recently to raise money for Democratic coffers. At a posh party at the home of the Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, Mr. Obama, joined by former President Bill Clinton, mingled with a small group of wealthy donors, ostensibly to thank them, campaign aides said, for all the money they've given this election cycle.

Then it was on to the Nokia Theater. From there, the president headed to a $25,000 per person party for 150 supporters held at Wolfgang Puck's WP24 in the Ritz Carlto n. On Monday, Mr. Obama will do the same, this time in San Francisco.

Still stinging from the president's lackluster showing in the debate, the Obama campaign is beginning this week with a full frontal assault on Mr. Romney, who is due to deliver a foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute on Monday.

Aboard Air Force One en route to California, a campaign spokeswoman, Jennifer Psaki, ridiculed Mr. Romney's foreign policy experience. “We are not going to be lectured by someone who's been an unmitigated disaster on foreign policy every time he sticks his toe in the foreign policy waters,” Ms. Psaki said, referring to Mr. Romney's European trip this summer, which received poor reviews both at home and abroad.

But the Obama campaign is clearly nervous about the next presidential debate, which is scheduled for next week in Long Island. Mr. Obama will hole up in Williamsburg, Va., this weekend for debate preparation, aides said, and Ms. Psaki e ven joked that a childhood friend of the president's from Punahou School in Hawaii, Mike Ramos, who was along for the ride on Air Force One on Sunday, was actually on the plane to act as Mr. Obama's new debate coach.

For Both Campaigns, Time to Fine-Tune Their Messages


Presidential candidates win when they adapt. And that is exactly what Mitt Romney and President Obama are each trying to do.

The debate last Wednesday, events in the Middle East and the better-than-expected jobs report on Friday are forcing the two campaigns to adjust to a new reality in the final month before Election Day. Neither can simply follow its playbook and expect to succeed.

Here is a look at how the dynamics have shifted, and how the candidates are expected to react in the week ahead:

UNEMPLOYMENT For more than a year, Mr. Romney's most consistent economic argument was a simple one: unemployment had stubbornly remained above 8 percent for Mr. Obama's entire presidency. That is a firing offense, Mr. Romney said again and again.

“We've had 43 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent,” Mr. Romney said in his closing statement at the debate on Wednesday.

Now, though, Mr. Romney will have to adjust his stump speech and his ads. The drop in unemployment to 7.8 percent robs him of the simple argument he has been making and will require a new line of attack.

Mr. Romney's initial attempt to adjust his message was to question the statistic. Speaking at an event in Virginia on Friday, he said that people who “just drop out altogether” from the work force had artificially lowered the rate.

But that technical explanation is not a rallying cry. So Mr. Romney has seized on a slightly different jobs message that does not dwell so much on the current unemployment rate. The new approach will be on display in rallies this week.

“There were fewer new jobs created this month than last month,” Mr. Romney said in Abingdon, Va. “We don't have to stay on the path we've been on. We can do better.”

DEBATE TACTICS For Mr. Obama, the new reality was created moments after the debate ended on Wednesday night. His lackluster performance slo wed his momentum and raised questions about his strategy.

For Mr. Obama's campaign, the question is how to adapt. Senior strategists on Thursday hinted strongly that Mr. Obama would be much more aggressive in his next debate - an approach he has already begun taking at rallies in the last several days.

Campaign advisers say Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will reinforce that shift in his debate with Representative Paul D. Ryan on Thursday. And the campaign's allies have already begun calling Mr. Romney a serial liar - a message that will continue in ads this week.

A new video released by Mr. Obama's campaign on Sunday is an example of the new strategy. Called “Cameras,” the video argues that Mr. Romney's debate performance was a series of lies that distorted his record.

But the biggest challenge for Mr. Obama's campaign may be how to respond if polls this week show that his campaign has lo st the momentum it seemed to have at the end of September.

LIBYA AND THE MIDEAST Both campaigns have long argued that the economy is the biggest issue of the campaign. But the killing of the American ambassador to Libya, as well as the broader instability in the Middle East, has changed that dynamic a bit.

Mr. Romney appears ready to adjust his message by seizing on the Libya situation to question the president's judgment and leadership. He plans to deliver a foreign policy speech on Monday at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va.

He clearly hopes to put Mr. Obama on the defensive over the attacks on the diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. The question is whether he can turn that argument into a broader indictment of the president's foreign policy.

For Mr. Obama, the overseas events also present the need to adapt. His campaign will need to find answers for the situation in Libya and the Middle East while more aggressively making the wi der case for his leadership abroad.

Axelrod Says Obama Will Review Tape of Debate


As senior adviser for the Obama campaign, David Axelrod, knows that his public criticisms of the boss should be exceedingly rare, and oh-so-gently worded when they do come. But he made it clear on Sunday, however indirectly, that President Obama was less than thrilled by his debate performance on Wednesday and that he would be making some changes.

“I think the president understands â€" the president is his harshest critic,” Mr. Axelrod said on CBS's “Face the Nation.”

Mr. Obama has nine days to prepare for his next debate against Mitt Romney, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. Among the many criticisms the president faced after the first debate was a stylistic one â€" that he spent too much time looking down at his notes or away from his opponent, making him appear disengaged.

Mr. Axelrod tried to explain that â€" “I think the president was taking notes on what was being said because he wanted to make sure that he was responsive” - before adding, “He'll look at that tape and he'll make the adjustments that he thinks are necessary.”

But Mr. Axelrod did not miss a chance to lambaste Mr. Romney's performance â€" as Obama aides have been doing since the Denver encounter on Wednesday â€" as theatrical and at times fundamentally misleading.

Suggesting that Mr. Obama had expected, and prepared for, a more substantive debate, Mr. Axelrod said, “I think he went thinking that this was going to be a discussion about the country's future, and he was confronted by this kind of Gantry-esque performance on the other side, just serially rewriting history.”

The program's moderator, Bob Schieffer, stopped Mr. Axelrod for clarification.

Yes, Mr. Axelrod said, he was referring to Elmer Gantry, the title character in a book â€" banned in Boston when published in 1927 â€" and later a movie about a charismatic, fast-talking, but deeply dishonest street preacher. Mr. Axelrod apparently was overlooking Mr. Gantry's hard-drinking ways; Mr. Romney is a Mormon.

Regardless, to Romney supporters, such talk is sour grapes.

“The Obama campaign, they remind me a little bit of a 7-year-old losing a checker game, and then instead of being frustrated at the outcome, they sweep the board off the table,” said Ed Gillespie, a senior adviser to the Romney campaign

If the Republican challenger managed to put in a stronger debate performance, he said on ABC's “This Week,” it “was not a matter of style, it was a matter of substance.”

Mr. Gillespie argued that Mr. Romney put forward “a fact-based critique of President Obama's failed policies that the president was unable to respond to.”

Romney Ad Says Obama Distorts Tax Cut Claim


In a television ad released Sunday, the Romney campaign returned to one of the most contentious issues of the presidential debate to accuse President Obama of falsely claiming Mitt Romney would cut $5 trillion in taxes.

Mr. Obama repeated the accusation several times in the debate last Wednesday. Mr. Obama's assertion about the $5 trillion in tax cuts has been a staple of Democrats' accusations that Mr. Romney's economic plans favor the rich.

“President Obama continues to distort Mitt Romney's economic plan,'' the narrator of the ad says. “The latest? Not telling the truth about Mitt Romney's tax plan.''

The ad cites an independent fact-check by The Associated Press and even includes a sound bite of Stephanie Cutter, Mr. Obama's deputy campaign manager, telling CNN, “Well, okay, stipulated, it won't be near $5 trillion.”

The issue turns on semantics as much as math. Mr. Romney has proposed a packag e of tax cuts, including a 20 percent reduction in marginal income tax rates and zeroing out estate taxes, as well as making permanent the Bush-era tax cuts. Add everything up and the theoretical loss of federal revenue over 10 years is $5 trillion, according to the independent Tax Policy Center.

But that is only half the story. Mr. Romney describes his proposal as “revenue neutral'' â€" any hole punched in the annual deficit would be filled by eliminating tax deductions on high earners and closing other loopholes.

“I'm not looking for a $5 trillion tax cut,'' Mr. Romney insisted in the debate. “What I've said is I won't put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit. That's part one. So there's no economist that can say Mitt Romney's tax plan adds $5 trillion if I say I will not add to the deficit with my tax plan.''

Mr. Romney has left himself open to the Democrats' attacks by not specifying how he would make up the l oss in revenue, specifically which tax deductions he would eliminate. And he also counts on his plan to spur economic growth and add to tax collections, a proposition that federal budget experts have difficulty factoring into their estimates.

The issue is hardly going away. On Thursday Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who will face Representative Paul D. Ryan in a vice presidential debate this week, mocked Mr. Romney's claims about his tax proposals. “Last night we found out he doesn't have a $5 trillion tax cut,'' he said. “I guess he outsourced that to China or something.''