By Amie Parnes - 10/17/12 08:02 PM EDT
A day after their bruising second presidential debate, President Obama and Mitt Romney claimed momentum heading into the final three weeks before Election Day.
“Everyone is saying he showed up," said a Democratic former White House aide, adding, "He not only showed up. He kicked ass and then some. He showed everyone why he was elected in the first place, and he showed why he’s going to win in November."
“Gov. Romney won last night’s debate because he shared his plan of how he would lead the country to a real recovery and clearly laid out the case why America can’t afford four more years,” Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul said in an email. “President Obama only had attacks to offer because he has no explanation for the failures of his economic policies or his lack of prescriptions for the future.”
A Gallup daily tracking poll released Wednesday highlighted the damage Obama did to himself with a disastrous performance at the first debate, which he had entered as the front-runner. It found Romney expanding his lead among likely voters to 51 percent to 45 percent.
While Gallup’s survey was taken before the debate on Tuesday, even Obama’s supporters acknowledged uncertainty over whether he did a good enough job at Hofstra to significantly shift the race’s momentum.
“I did think it stopped the bleeding and maybe it gives us an extra gust of wind in our sails,” said a former senior administration official. “But I think it’s too soon to tell what impact it will have.
“It did stop the needle from moving in the wrong direction though, so in that sense, it helped, whereas Denver did not,” the former aide added.
Several snap polls on the debate found Obama was the victor, and a few figures on the right — notably conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer — declared that Romney had won, at least on points.
But these findings were mitigated by polling from the same firms that found a majority of voters favored Romney over Obama when it came to the crucial issue of the economy.
For example, a CBS poll found that 37 percent of those surveyed said Obama won the match-up, while 30 percent thought Romney performed better. Thirty-three percent called it a tie. But 65 percent of those surveyed said they thought Romney would do a better job handling the economy.
A CNN poll found that 46 percent of respondents thought Obama beat Romney in the debate, while 39 percent said Romney was the victor in the face-off.
But nearly half said the debate would not make them more likely to vote for either candidate. Those who said the debate would make a difference were evenly split between the two candidates.
CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said Romney was seen as better able to handle the economy, taxes and the budget deficit by the CNN audience, even though more in the audience thought Obama was the winner of the debate.
Obama didn’t declare himself the outright winner in the debate, telling a crowd of students at Cornell College in Iowa on Wednesday that he was “still trying to figure out how to get the hang of this thing.”
“But we’re working on it,” he added.
At the same time Obama spoke in Iowa, Romney was exuding confidence at a campaign rally in Virginia Beach, saying “I love these debates.”
He attacked Obama’s performance, saying he found it “interesting the president still doesn't have an agenda in the next term.”
“He’s got to come up with that over this weekend because there's only one debate left on Monday,” Romney quipped.
Obama used part of his address in Iowa to attack Romney’s jobs plan and tax proposal, repeating a line from the debate that it was a “sketchy deal.”
Romney’s “jobs math isn’t any better than his tax math,” Obama said.
“You’ve heard of the New Deal, you’ve heard of the Fair Deal,” Obama said, speaking at Cornell College in Iowa. “Mitt Romney is trying to sell us the sketchy deal. You don’t want to invest in that sketchy deal.”
Romney lashed out at Obama on the economy and argued he’d avoided a direct answer Tuesday to a female questioner who had asked whether $4 per gallon gas is the new normal.
“When it comes to his policies, and his answers, and his agenda, he's pretty much running on fumes,” Romney said. “The American people want real answers.”
Female voters could end up deciding the election, and both candidates are working hard to win them over.
Obama’s aides and supporters believe Romney could have hurt himself with female voters — whom pre-debate polls showed were moving in the Republican’s direction — with both his answers and his aggressive behavior toward Obama and moderator Candy Crowley.
“If you were an undecided woman voter I think you’d be baffled by his response on women’s issues,” the former official said.
In his speech in Iowa, Obama, wearing a pink rubber bracelet to note Breast Cancer Awareness Month, reminded the crowd of students that the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was “the first bill I signed into law as your president.”
He also took a shot at Romney's comment about having “binders full of women” as job applicants when he was Massachusetts governor, telling the crowd, "We don't have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented women."