WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Fresh off a feisty debate that re-energized Barack Obama’s bid for a second term, the Democratic president and Republican rival Mitt Romney headed back on the campaign trail on Wednesday to start their final appeals to undecided voters.
With 20 days to go until the November 6 election, the candidates’ vice presidential running mates blanketed the morning television talk shows to claim victory in the second U.S. presidential debate on Tuesday evening.
Romney’s partner, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan, said Obama failed to lay out a convincing plan for economic recovery.
“The president ... couldn’t justify his record on deficits and job creation. And what Mitt Romney offered was a very specific plan on how to get the country growing and creating jobs again,” Ryan said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Vice President Joe Biden, whose aggressive strategy in his own debate with Ryan last week set the tone for Tuesday’s Obama-Romney matchup, said the president “had a great debate.”
Romney, however, remained woefully short on details, especially about his pledge to lower taxes for the middle class while not adding to the federal budget deficit, he said.
“Even after three debates ... there is still not a single specific in the Romney $5 trillion tax plan. Everything is sketchy,” Biden said on NBC’s “Today” show. “There’s no direct answers to any questions, and I think it’s becoming clearer and clearer to the American people that there’s a fair amount of rhetoric but not much substance.”
Obama made up for a much-criticized listless showing in the first presidential debate two weeks ago, attacking his millionaire opponent over economic proposals he said would bolster the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.
Greg Valliere, political strategist at Potomac Research Group, said Obama scored points while Romney missed some opportunities.
“Barack Obama, trailing by 4 points in yesterday’s Gallup poll of likely voters, needed a great debate last night, and he got a very good one,” Valliere wrote in a memo to clients. “Obama stopped his free-fall, and he probably will be tied again in polls by this weekend.”
Valliere and other analysts said Romney bungled on foreign policy when he mischaracterized - and was corrected by the debate moderator - Obama’s initial remarks on last month’s deadly attack on diplomatic facilities in Libya.
Instead, Obama took advantage of the moment to accuse Romney and Ryan of politicizing the event that killed four Americans, including U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Obama travels to Iowa and Ohio and Romney holds campaign events in Virginia on Wednesday. All three states are considered “swing states,” with polls showing they could go to either candidate in the presidential election.
Instant polls after the debate gave the edge to Obama.
But Romney, a former private equity adviser who says his business experience will help him turn around the U.S. economy, scored points when he accused Obama of failing to follow through on promises of his 2008 campaign.
In one of his most effective moments of the debate, the former Massachusetts governor said Obama’s poor economic record had led to 15 million more people on food stamps, slow growth and a lack of jobs.
The debate’s impact will not fully emerge for a couple days. Romney enjoyed a surge after his first matchup with Obama on October 3, but the latest opinion polls show the presidential race is near a dead heat.
Tuesday’s Gallup poll had Romney ahead by 4 percentage points in the 12 most contested states, while the daily Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll shows Obama in the lead by 3 points among likely voters across the country.
The Tuesday Reuters/Ipsos poll also showed more likely voters have moved away from one of the candidates and declared themselves “undecided.”
The two candidates were clearly seeking the female vote in the debate on Tuesday night, but Romney stumbled over his words as he explained how he supports equal opportunities for women.
He said while he was Massachusetts governor he once had “binders full of women” candidates for cabinet jobs - an awkward phrase that prompted a flurry of reaction on social media. The claim also raised questions about whether influential women were part of his circle while he was governor.
Republican National Committee chairman Reince Preibus said on MSNBC that Romney was just trying to emphasize that women are a big part of his administration.
The pair meet again on Monday in Boca Raton, Florida, for their final debate, which will be on foreign policy.
Editing by Karey Wutkowski and Doina Chiacu