The Washington Times - October 23, 2012, 01:36PM

David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Obama’s campaign, couldn’t resist reinjecting Big Bird into the post-presidential debate analysis even though neither Mr. Obama nor Mitt Romney mentioned the iconic yellow-feathered creature in Tuesday night’s third and final debate.

“Governor Romney in so many instances said that now he agrees with the president’s policies,” he said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday morning. “If Big Bird was the symbol of the first debate, I think the parrot would be the symbol of this one.”

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Mr. Axelrod repeatedly declared Mr. Obama the winner of the presidential face-off Monday night in Boca Raton, Fla., and pointed to a number of areas where Mr. Romney agreed with Mr. Obama despite earlier criticism, including on the 2014 drawdown deadline for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, drone strikes and the killing of Osama bin Laden, which Mr. Romney said in 2008 the U.S. shouldn’t “move heaven and earth” to do.

The shifting positions does not reflect a strong, resolute leadership, Mr. Axelrod said.

“It isn’t a campaign; it isn’t politics. There are lives at stake, and the security of the United States of America is at stake,” he said. “So that kind of parsing and shifting is not just offensive, it’s dangerous.”

The Romney campaign dismisses such criticism, arguing their candidate spelled out clear distinctions and highlighting their exchanges on the likelihood of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon and whether Mr. Obama first came up with the idea of slashing defense budgets during last year’s debt talks.

“This trillion-dollar cut in defense will devastate our defense, make us weak, project weakness abroad, and I think Mitt Romney did a great job of contrasting that,” his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan said Tuesday.

Mr. Axelrod also expressed confidence about the president’s standing going into the final weeks.

“We have the ball, we have the lead, we have a great push-off as a result of these last two very strong debate performances,” he said. “I’m confident that we’re going to win this race, and we’ll know who’s bluffing and who isn’t in two weeks.”

Mr. Obama’s top campaign officials also rejected suggestions that they are writing off North Carolina two weeks before Election Day.

Campaign Manager Jim Messina said North Carolina is “absolutely” still in play.

“We have a huge operation on the ground, we’re airing great TV ads. … North Carolina is going to be what it was in 2008: very, very close,” he said.

In addition to North Carolina, Mr. Axelrod argued that the other Southern battleground states — Florida and Virginia — continue to be competitive.

“We are doubling down, we are not pulling back at all,” he said. “Anybody who thinks these states are in the bag [for Mr. Romney] are half in the bag themselves.”

The campaign just unveiled a new TV ad in the state, and Mr. Messina insisted that the Obama campaign has registered more voters in North Carolina, beating their own expectations by upping their numbers from 2008.