Virginia, US (AFP) — A different Barack Obama will show up at the next debate with Mitt Romney, aides said Sunday, after the president held a post-mortem of his leaden debut clash with his Republican foe.
Obama bunkered down at a luxury Virginia golf resort prepping for Tuesday’s encounter with Romney, which has taken on high significance since the president’s first debate performance sent his poll numbers tumbling.
Senior Obama aide David Axelrod said Obama had studied video of the first duel in Denver earlier this month, in which the president appeared disengaged, unenthusiastic and seemed loath to even look directly at Romney.
“Nobody is a harsher critic than the president is of himself,” Axelrod told “Fox News Sunday.”
“I think he’s going to make some adjustments on Tuesday,” the adviser said, though joining other aides in declining to offer details on Obama’s strategy for the town hall style debate, the middle clash of three encounters between the candidates.
“I think he’s going to be aggressive in making the case for his view of where we should go as a country,” Axelrod said, adding that Obama would challenge Romney’s shifting political positions, unlike in the first debate.
Obama emerged briefly from his hideaway to visit campaign workers at a local office in Virginia, a swing state he won in 2008, and where he and Romney are effectively tied ahead of the November 6 election.
“It is going great,” Obama said, when asked by a reporter how his debate prep was coming along.
With his debate team around him, Obama was staging mock showdowns with Senator John Kerry playing the role of Romney, ahead of the second debate at Hofstra University in New York state.
Former White House aide Anita Dunn was playing CNN anchor Candy Crowley, who will moderate the debate, a campaign official said.
Romney, after worshiping at a Mormon church Sunday, also got in some debate practice, with aides confident he can put in another strong display, after the first head-to-head confrontation turned around his once trailing campaign.
The Republican, a former governor of Massachusetts, is honing his debate technique with Ohio Senator Rob Portman standing in for the president.
“I think President Obama is going to come out swinging. He’s going to have to compensate for a poor first debate,” Portman told ABC television’s “This Week.”
With the candidates off the trail, it was left to high-profile supporters to hurl campaign grenades on the Sunday talkshow circuit.
Republicans stepped up their assault on Obama over the raid on the US consulate in Benghazi on September 11 that killed four Americans, including US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.
Critics say the administration, which initially called the incident was a “spontaneous” attack but now admits it was an organized terror strike, is trying to deflect blame from Obama ahead of the November 6 election.
“Either they are misleading the American people or (are) incredibly incompetent,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program.
The attack came after a week in which a State Department official said a request for beefed up security at US posts in Libya was denied. The White House says Obama was never informed about the appeal for help.
But Republicans charge that after a Democratic convention that lauded Obama over the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden, his administration is unwilling to admit that Al-Qaeda is still a serious threat.
“When something goes bad, they deny, they deceive and they delay. And the truth is we’re not safer,” said Graham.
Democratic lawmaker Elijah Cummings accused Romney of using the death of Stevens as a “political football.”
Romney also came under fire, in a possible preview of the debate, over exactly how he would pay for his across-the-board 20 percent tax cut without further inflating the deficit or cutting deductions for middle class families.
Romney adviser Ed Gillespie said the Republican candidate did not want to discuss the arithmetic around the tax cut to avoid locking congressional Democrats and Republicans into entrenched positions.
But the Obama team says Romney will have no choice but to do away with some cherished deductions, such as those for mortgage interest or charitable contributions to make the plan add up, meaning more pain for the middle class.
Two national tracking polls by Gallup and Rasmussen showed the Republican up by two points.
But there was better news for Obama in Ohio, which is shaping up as perhaps the decisive clash.
A Public Policy Polling survey showed the president up five points, 51-46, in the state, despite a campaign blitz by Romney and Ryan over the last few days.
The poll found that 19 percent of people had already cast their ballot in early voting, and 76 percent of those had plumped for Obama, proof of the president’s vaunted grassroots political machine in action.