David Goldman, AP
DENVER — Buoyed by a powerful debate showing, Mitt Romney said Thursday he offers "prosperity that comes through freedom" to a country struggling to shed a weak economy. President Barack Obama accused the former Massachusetts governor of running from his own record in pursuit of political power.
Both men unleashed new attack ads in the battleground states in a race with little more than a month to run, Obama suggesting Romney couldn't be trusted with the presidency, and the Republican accusing the president of backing a large tax increase on the middle class.
The debate reached 67.2 million viewers, an increase of 28 percent over the first debate in the 2008 presidential campaign. The measurement and information company Nielsen said Thursday that 11 networks provided live coverage of the debate.
Not even Democrats disputed that Romney was likely to benefit politically from the debate Wednesday night in which he aggressively challenged Obama's stewardship of the economy and said his own plans would help pull the country out of a slow-growth rut. Still, there was no immediate indication that the race would expand beyond the nine battleground states where the rivals and their running mates spend nearly all of their campaign time and advertising dollars.
Debate host Colorado is one of them, and Virginia, where Romney headed for an evening speech, is another. So, too, Wisconsin, Obama's destination for a mid-day rally. Nevada, Ohio, Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida and North Carolina are the others.
Among them, the nine states account for 110 electoral votes out of the 270 needed to win the White House, more than enough to tip the campaign to one man or the other.
"Victory is in sight," Romney exulted in an emailed request for donations to supporters. It was a show of confidence by a man hoping for a quick reversal in pre-debate public opinion polls that showed him trailing in battleground states as well as nationally.
Reprising a line from the debate, he told an audience of conservatives in Denver that Obama offers "trickle-down government." He added, "I don't think that's what America believes in. I see instead a prosperity that comes through freedom."
Another possible pivot point in the campaign neared in the form of Friday's government report on unemployment for September. Joblessness was measured at 8.1. percent the previous month.
Obama campaigned with the energy of a man determined to make up for a subpar debate showing. Speaking to a crowd not far from the debate hall, he said mockingly that a "very spirited fellow" who stood next to him onstage Wednesday night "does not want to be held accountable for the real Mitt Romney's positions" on taxes, education and other issues. "Governor Romney may dance around his positions, but if you want to be president you owe the American people the truth," he said.
Later, before a crowd of tens of thousands in Madison, Wis., he said Romney wants to cut federal funding for Public Television while repealing legislation that regulates the banking industry "I just want to make sure I've got this straight: He'll get rid of regulations on Wall Street, but he's going to crack down on Sesame Street," Obama said.
Taxes were a particular point of contention between the two men, although they were sharply divided as well on steps the cut the deficit, on government regulation, on education and Medicare.
Both in the debate and on the day after, Obama said repeatedly that his rival favors a $5 trillion tax cut that is tilted to the wealthy and would mean tax increases on the middle class or else result in a spike in federal deficits.
Romney said it wasn't so, and counterattacked in a new television commercial. It cited a report by the American Enterprise Institute that said Obama and "his liberal allies" want to raise taxes on middle class earners by $4,000 and that the Republican alternative would not raise the amount they owe to the IRS.
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