Romney Supporters Confident After Debate Performance

National Journal

Following what many analysts have called a strong debate performance, surrogates for Mitt Romney took to morning television with a new-found sense of confidence.

After weeks of struggling with the Republican nominee’s gaffes and weakening position in the polls, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Romney delivered a “knockout” on Wednesday night.

“At the end of the day, Gov. Romney came out and he seized the argument on the substance,” Christie said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “I've heard all kinds of complaints about Gov. Romney. I think he last night came out and said, ‘Here’s where I want to take America. Here's my vision.’ And I don't think the president was ready to answer that.”

Romney adviser Ed Gillespie said Romney laid out a “clear choice” for people just tuning into the presidential election. Further, he criticized the president—as the Republican National Committee did on Thursday—for not giving specific answers.

“I think you had millions of Americans watching Gov. Romney, seeing him, many of them for the first time, and a chance to look at him without 30-second attack ads and 12-second snippets on the news,” Gillespie said on NBC’s Today. “We didn't hear much, frankly, from President Obama about any second-term agenda, and he didn't have a very credible defense of his first term agenda. And I think the American people saw that last night.”

For its part, the Romney campaign also released a 30-second ad on Thursday, touting the Republican nominee's plan to create $12 million new jobs when he comes into office--a fact that has been disputed by the Obama campaign.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also praised Romney’s performance. 

“I was surprised at how well Mitt did,” McCain said on CNN’s Starting Point. “And I think it was very important, because he came across as the person he really is as opposed to how he has been portrayed by hundreds of millions of dollars in attack ads.”

McCain expressed surprise at the president’s “rusty” performance, which he said was due to spending the last four years “relatively unchallenged,” but warned that Romney should not underestimate the president in the coming matchups.

While Republicans praised Romney’s performance during the debate, Obama adviser David Axelrod said it was just that—a performance.

“I expected a strong performance. I got a strong performance. But that's what it was, a performance,” Axelrod said on NBC’s Today. “The underlying facts remain the underlying facts.”

Similarly, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a surrogate for Obama, acknowledged that Romney “elevated” his performance during Wednesday night’s debate, but said that won’t fundamentally change the dynamics of the race.

“I've been in these debates, and always, it seems that the challenger has an edge in that very first debate,” O’Malley said on CNN's Starting Point. “He’s on stage with the incumbent, so there’s always a certain overcoming of the low expectations for the challenger. But there’s still two more rounds coming up in these debates.”

Axelrod went after Romney on several points, including the Republican nominee’s tax plan and Wall Street regulation. Obama “treated the American people like adults and told them the truth,” Axelrod said.

When challenged on why the president failed to mention major talking points like Romney’s “47 percent” comments and the auto industry rescue, Axelrod did not address the criticism. While he said the president is “looking very much forward” to the next debate on Oct. 16, Axelrod said Obama sees room for improvement.

“The president's never satisfied with his performance,” Axelrod said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “He's always challenging himself ... and if he wants to make some changes in the next debate, he'll do so.”

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