WASHINGTON -- After President Obama's disappointing debate performance, Wednesday, some Democratic strategists lamented that Obama missed opportunities to strike at what they saw as his GOP rival's inconsistencies on policy matters.
Obama accused Romney of lying to the American people as he traveled through the critical battlegrounds of Colorado and Wisconsin on Thursday, suggesting that Romney was misrepresenting his previously stated views on hot-button topics such as taxes, health care and Wall Street reform.
Yet the day after the first presidential debate, some Democrats said they were befuddled that the president didn't make that point during his first one-one-one encounter with Romney.
Jerry Austin, a Cleveland-based Democratic strategist, said the president's performance was disappointing and may have slowed or stopped the momentum Obama enjoyed over the last several weeks. But the moment was far less than a game-changer, he said.
Still, Obama, who will visit Ohio on Friday, needs to be "feisty and fighting" on the campaign trail in the days ahead, Austin said, and make the case that Romney's performance was more deserving of an Oscar than four years in the White House.
"What he's got to do in the days ahead is say, 'Hey,maybe this guy has an MBA from Harvard, but he's got a drama degree from Yale,' " Austin said."He should be saying, 'Here's what he said in the debate and here's what he said in the primary. I didn't say it at the debate, but I'm saying it now.' "
The Obama campaign vowed to sharpen its attacks in the coming days, arguing to voters that Romney's tax plan would lead to middle-class Americans paying more and that the former governor's plan to replace Obama's signature health care law does not include provisions for insurance coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions.
Some Democrats also expressed disappointment that Obama never took a shot at Romney's private comments at a fundraiser that were captured on video of him dismissing 47% of Americans as dependent on the federal government.
"I was surprised by that, but it's been all over President Obama's ads and I think it will come out," said Jaime Harrison, vice chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party, "I'm sure Joe Biden's going to bring it up."
The vice presidential candidates will debate Oct. 11 in Kentucky.
David Axelrod, a senior adviser to the Obama campaign, acknowledged that many supporters wanted to hear Obama hit Romney on the 47% comments as well as his time at the private equity firm Bain Capital and his refusal to release more than two years of tax returns. The Obama campaign and the president's surrogates have repeatedly criticized Romney in campaign advertisements on those issues.
"A lot of those questions are well-known to the public, and again I think the president was focusing on questions that were asked," Axelrod said. "Plainly he didn't come with as focused an intent as Gov. Romney on dropping particular lines ...(Obama's) interest was in honoring the American people with honest answers to serious questions."
While Obama's performance was underwhelming, several veteran Democratic strategists said that Obama remains in a stronger position than Romney.
There might even be a silver lining for Democrats down ballot by the president's sub-par performance, says Matt Bennett, who served as Al Gore's campaign communications director.
There had been some speculation as Romney slipped in the polls in key battleground states in recent weeks that GOP-leaning super PACs would shift more money to Congressional races and away from the presidential race.
"This will keep super PAC money at the presidential level, whereas if (Karl) Rove and others had abandoned Romney after last night, that could have been real trouble for Democrats down ballot," Bennett said. "Oddly, we might look back at this debate and say it wasn't (Obama's) finest hour but it helped out other Democrats."
Phil Singer, who was spokesman for Hillary Rodham Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, said Obama could use a stronger performance in the next faceoff, but that he didn't believe top Democrats were truly worried that his Wednesday showing was indicative of what's to come.
"Remember the rule of 2008, which was 'no bedwetting.' ... There is no reason to panic over what happened. Romney had a good night, but the reality is campaigns are cycles, and you have good weeks and bad weeks," he said. Obama is now "perfectly set up to rock and roll in the subsequent debates."