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Obama camp promises tougher response to Romney in next debate

Reeling from a debate performance where President Obama often seemed listless and subdued relative to his Republican opponent, the Obama campaign's top strategist said Thursday they would more aggressively challenge Mitt Romney on alleged inconsistencies in his policies.

"You know, you can't tell the American people up is down and down is up and ignore your history and ignore your statements," Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said Thursday on MSNBC. "You can't square the circle, and Gov. Romney is going to be held accountable for that."

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Axelrod went on to accuse Romney of playing "a shell game" at the debate and said the Republican nominee deserved "an 'F' for being honest with the American people."

In an earlier interview on NBC's "Today Show," Axelrod added that the president was "looking very much forward" to his next chance to debate Romney on Oct. 16.

"I know this, he will come, he will make an honest argument with the American people about how to rebuild the economy and the middle class and he'll hold Gov. Romney to account for these big gaps in the truth we saw last night," Axelrod said.


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But Obama's longtime political strategist did seem to concede that the president had been bested, at least on style, in Wednesday night's pivotal showdown with his Republican challenger.

"I joked that Mitt Romney put more preparation into it than they did into the invasion in Normandy and you saw last night," Axelrod said. "I expected a strong performance, got a strong performance, but that's what it was — a performance."

On MSNBC, host Joe Scarborough asked Axelrod why, if Romney had shifted from many of his positions as the Obama campaign contended, the president was unable to seize on those discrepancies. And Axelrod was repeatedly reminded that high-profile liberal allies expressed dismay at the president's performance on Wednesday night.

"I understand, and I understand there was a hunger for us to attack Romney more personally than the president did last night," Axelrod conceded. "The president was talking to the American people about some of these fundamental issues. As I said, treating the American people as adults."

The Obama adviser was also repeatedly pressed as to why the president did not mention either Gov. Romney's tenure at Bain Capital or his "47 percent" remarks at a closed-door fundraiser — both staples of the president's reelection effort.

"It wasn't a calculated decision," Axelrod said. "I think the president's belief is that that's something that's been very much part of the fabric of the discussion. People understand that. And the president was answering the questions he was asked about the issues facing this country."

But Axelrod pledged the next meeting between the candidates would be "really interesting" now that the president had "gotten a good look at the Romney routine."

"What we need to do is make sure that they know ... exactly what Gov. Romney's inconsistencies, as you put them, and what his positions actually mean for them, what it means in terms of the higher taxes they're going to have to pay, what it means in terms of the reduced protection they're going to have vis-a-vis their financial transactions, what it means in terms of their healthcare and the weakening of their protections in their relationship with their insurance companies," Axelrod said. "We've got to make that case, and we're going to make that case in the next 30 days."