DENVER — An invigorated Mitt Romney basked in rave reviews Thursday after his first face-off with the president, envisioning an inaugural celebration with conservative activists while President Barack Obama looked to rebound by accusing his rival of remaking himself on the debate stage.
"He knows full well that we don't want what he's been selling for the last year," Obama told supporters gathered on a brisk autumn morning in Denver's Sloan's Lake Park. "Gov. Romney may dance around his positions, but if you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth."
Romney ignited loud sustained cheers when he surprised a gathering of Colorado's Conservative Political Action Conference by appearing unannounced the morning after a debate he said was "an opportunity for the American people to see two very different visions for the country."
"I saw the president's vision as trickle-down government and I don't think that's what America believes in," Romney said. "I see instead a prosperity that comes through freedom."
Standing toe-to-toe with the president for the first time in the campaign, Romney held his own and more at a time when there already were signs that the race is tightening in some of the battleground states where Obama has enjoyed an advantage.
Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod also sought to turn the questions about the debate into a matter of character, repeatedly accusing Romney in a conference call with reporters of "hiding the truth and the facts" from the American people. But he acknowledged the president learned some lessons and said he would adjust his strategy in the next two debates.
"Obviously moving forward we're going to take a hard look at this and we're going to have to make some judgments as to where to draw the line in these debates and how to use our time," Axelrod said.
Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg responded to the accusations of dishonesty by saying the Obama camp "offered no defense of the president's first term record or vision for a second term, and instead, offered nothing but false attacks, petulant statements, and lies about Gov. Romney's record."
Both candidates were heading in the coming days to some of the most hotly contested battleground states: Obama was traveling to Wisconsin, then on to Virginia and Ohio. Romney and running mate Paul Ryan are off to Virginia, then Romney spends more time in Virginia before moving on to Florida. Vice President Joe Biden is bound for Iowa.
Romney told the exhilarated audience of Colorado conservatives they need to work to get voters who have converted away from Obama to the polls.
"You guys are going to have to cheer here, and then go out and knock on doors, and get people who voted for President Obama to see the light and come join our team," he said. "And if you do that, we'll all be able to come together and have a wonderful inauguration celebration in January. So let's make sure that happens."
Before leaving Colorado, Romney brought in more campaign cash to fund the final push. He went to a mansion on the Cherry Hills Country Club south of Denver, where a Bentley and other luxury cars were lined up for a private breakfast with donors who contributed at least $50,000. Their money will help fund Romney's current advertising gap in the final weeks, putting out messages like the ads his campaign revealed Thursday outlining his job creation plan and accusing Obama's budget deficits of raising the tax burden on Americans.
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