WILLIAMSBURG, Virginia — A different Barack Obama will show up to his 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 was out of sight in 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.
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, New York on Tuesday.
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,” Axelrod said, but like other aides he declined 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.
Romney, after worshipping 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 News show “This Week.”
With the candidates off the trail, it was left to high profile supporters to hurl campaign grenades on the Sunday talk show circuit.
Republicans stepped up their assault on Obama over the raid on the US consulate in Benghazi on September 11 which killed four Americans, including US ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.
Critics say the administration, which initially said 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,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham 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 which lauded Obama over the US raid which 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 advisor 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, for instance 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 on Sunday.
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 grass roots political machine in action.
Portman however said the race in his home patch, where Obama is benefiting from lower than average unemployment and support for his auto industry ballot, was “dead even.”
“He can probably win the presidency without Ohio, but I wouldn’t want to take the risk,” Portman said.