Romney campaign exudes confidence

Mitt Romney’s campaign was noticeably more confident on Thursday, a day after the Republican candidate was widely judged to have beaten President Obama in the first presidential debate.

Aides and surrogates seemed invigorated by Romney's performance, and were more combative in public.

“This is a campaign that believes he can win,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean. “Once Romney was on stage with the president, and he was able to score points against him, there was a Wizard of Oz effect that pulled back the curtain. There's a renewed effort and spirit that wasn't there a couple days ago.”

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One spokeswoman called Obama’s campaign “petulant” in its response to the debate, while former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu piled on to the criticism of Obama by repeatedly calling the president “lazy and disengaged” during an appearance on MSNBC.

The Romney campaign sought to capitalize on what it hopes will be a game-changing event, announcing a major foreign policy address next week and signaling it would hit Obama hard if a Friday jobs report is disappointing.

GOP strategists said September’s jobs report as another opportunity for Romney to drive home his message that Obama’s policies have been bad for the economy.

The report is expected to show the economy added 115,000 jobs, not enough to alter the 8.1 percent unemployment rate. Assuming that’s the case, Romney is ready to pounce, arguing as he did Wednesday night that “trickle-down government” was responsible for the stagnation.

In anticipation of the report, Romney’s campaign released a new swing-state ad Thursday that shows the candidate speaking directly to the camera about his plan to create 12 million new jobs.

Elsewhere, Republicans crowed that their candidate had shifted the race’s momentum and had a chance to defeat Obama on Election Day.

“Romney really breathed new life into his campaign, that’s for sure — it's too bad we didn't see this Romney sooner because he could have been leading in the polls,” said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell. “This was the Massachusetts moderate that Democrats feared, and he showed that he was a principled but practical conservative willing to reach across party lines.”

Republicans hope that the candidate's new mojo will help rally support among their conservative base. Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said Thursday there was already evidence that supporters were excited. She said in a message on Twitter that he had received more than two online donations every second in the hours after the debate.

Strategists noted that polls show Romney in striking distance, and they expect the margin to close because of the debate.

In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll release Wednesday, Romney trailed the president by just three percentage points among likely voters, and was within the margin of error in Florida and Virginia.

Romney is looking to aggressively target those two states in the coming days, with rallies in Florida over the weekend bookended by his post-debate rally in Virginia on Friday night and the foreign policy address Monday at the Virginia Military Institute.

Romney’s campaign promises that speech will challenge Obama aggressively. The GOP nominee will attack the president for “equivocation” and “weakness,” and will criticize White House handling of the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.

“He will offer a stark contrast between his vision for a strong foreign policy and the failed record of President Obama,” said campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg.

At a rally Thursday night in Fishersville, Va., Romney and running mate Paul Ryan pounced on remarks earlier in the day by Vice President Joe Biden, who said the Obama administration wanted to reduce the burden on the middle class by raising taxes on the wealthy.

“Last night, President Obama made it very clear he’s going to raise taxes,” Ryan said. “Today, Vice President Joe Biden made it even more clear. He asked himself a question. He asked if he and President Obama want a trillion-dollar tax hike, and his answer to himself was, ‘yes we do.’ Well Virginia, no we don’t.”

Romney still faces a struggle to defeat Obama, according to polls.

The president held an eight-point lead headed into debate night in the pivotal state of Ohio, which every Republican president has needed to secure the White House. And in all but three of the elections since the first televised presidential debate in 1960, the man entering the first debate with a lead held on for victory.

Nate Silver, the polling analyst for the New York Times, also found that challengers typically earn a bounce from the first debate — but averaged just a net one and a half point bounce.

But Republicans say they are hopeful the success at the debate can turn the race the way Ronald Reagan used a debate victory over President Jimmy Carter in 1980. That debate was seen as helping to lift Reagan to a huge win on Election Day.

Romney acknowledged that he still faces an uphill battle Thursday morning during a surprise appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Denver.

“It's fun to be here and feel all the energy that you have here. I know all of your enthusiasm, I know of your passion for America ... but for that to happen 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.