Obama campaign strategists aren't ready to hand over the 2012 election to Mitt Romney after his strong debate showing, but they do want to give him an Academy Award.
Obama senior adviser Robert Gibbs credited Mr. Romney repeatedly Sunday with a "masterful, theatrical" debut at Wednesday's presidential debate while predicting that President Obama would bring his A-game to the next two face offs.
"I think you're going to see a very engaged president that is ready and willing to call out whichever Mitt Romney that shows up," Mr. Gibbs said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "I'm not going to take away from Mitt's masterful, theatrical performance. He did a superb acting job. He did everything but learn tap dance."
Republicans chalked up the Democratic response as sour grapes as they continued to contrast Mr. Romney's energetic debate presence with Mr. Obama's lackluster defense of his first term as president.
"Gov. Romney laid out a plan for turning this economy around, getting things moving again. He had a fact-based critique of President Obama's failed policies that the president was not able to respond to," Romney senior adviser Ed Gillespie said on ABC's "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos.
"Since then, the Obama campaign, they remind me a little of a seven-year-old losing a checker game, and instead of being frustrated at the outcome, they sweep the board off the table," Mr. Gillespie said.
Other Obama advisers were less diplomatic. Democrats have said that Mr. Romney's proposed tax plan will add to the federal debt by eliminating $5 trillion in tax revenue over a decade, a figure that Mr. Romney disputed during the debate.
Obama campaign manager David Axelrod called Mr. Romney "dishonest" on CBS' "Face the Nation," while Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen on "Meet the Press" said, "Either Mitt Romney is completely faking everything he said, or he is a liar."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich dismissed the Democratic tax-cut claims, calling them "just plain wrong," and added that Mr. Obama had plenty of opportunity to engage the Republican nominee on that point during the debate.
"The president of the United States had 90 minutes. Now if he had done his homework, if he'd actually prepared, if he'd actually studied Romney, why didn't he say that?" said Mr. Gingrich on "Meet the Press." "Why didn't he take Romney head on?"
Democrats also took jabs Sunday at Mr. Romney for saying he would eliminate funding for the Public Broadcasting Service. "He's taken the battle straight to 'Sesame Street' and let Wall Street run wild," Mr. Gibbs said.
Better to cut off the financially successful Big Bird than borrow more money from China, Mr. Gillespie said. "Every penny that you raise as a potential cut seems to be sacred with this administration, and you can't cut it, and they demagogue it," he said.
Panelists on the Sunday talk shows also looked ahead to the vice-presidential debate Thursday between Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Republican nominee Rep. Paul Ryan. Republicans said their gaping age difference — Mr. Biden is 69, while Mr. Ryan is 42 — could cause the Republican to be less aggressive for fear of appearing rude or cocky.
"Ryan's one of the brightest people in Congress, and he knows an immense amount of facts, but I suspect he's going to be respectful of Biden," Mr. Gingrich said. "There's a generational difference here that I think will lead Ryan to not give an inch, but to not be very hostile."
Meanwhile, panelists said Mr. Biden may feel under pressure to compensate for the president's low-key debate performance by coming out swinging. As GOP strategist Mike Murphy put it, "They're going to be pouring Jolt Cola down his throat. He's going to have a bayonet in his teeth."
Mr. Gibbs said the better question was: "Which Paul Ryan do we get?"
"Do we get this same sort of chameleon we got with Mitt Romney, who literally walked away from everything his campaign offered for two years in less than two hours?" Mr. Gibbs said. "I know Vice President Biden is ready and anxious to do this."
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