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Mr. Romney did not fully adhere to tea party ideology during the debate. He said at one point that his goal is not to starve the government.

“I’m not looking to cut massive taxes and to reduce the revenues going to the government,” he said. “My No. 1 principle is there’ll be no tax cut that adds to the deficit.”

Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, said Mr. Romney made some headway in Wednesday’s debate by being aggressive and touching on key themes. But he said the Republican nominee still has some hurdles to clear before he closes the deal.

“Most tea party voters are OMG voters: Obama Must Go,” Mr. Phillips said. “OMG voters will go out and push the button for Romney. Romney voters will go out with signs, work the polls, etc. The debate last night helped him, but he has not mentioned the tea party once.”

Mr. Phillips said Mr. Romney needs to have “a Reagan moment” in one of the debates where he says government is not the solution to problems, but rather is the problem.

Funding for PBS, and its sister radio network NPR, have been targets of conservatives for years.

During a major spending fight last year that kicked off Republicans’ newfound control of the House, the GOP passed amendments to defund all of public broadcasting — but those efforts were blocked by Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats, who refused to sign off on those trims.

At the Colorado Conservative Political Action Conference, held in Denver on Thursday, Mr. Romney’s full-throated defense of cutting PBS was the consensus highlight of the debate for members of the panel “The Next Generation of Conservatives.”

“That tells me how bold of a candidate Mitt Romney is,” said Alex Shriver, president of the College Republican National Committee. “That tells me what kind of a president Mitt Romney will be when he’s elected in 33 days.”

• Valerie Richardson contributed to this report from Denver.