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Romney Takes A Mini Victory Lap After First Debate


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.


And I'm Melissa Block.

We begin this hour on the post-debate campaign trail. President Obama and Mitt Romney both hit the road today, returning to a race with a slightly different feel. In a moment, we'll hear some post-game analysis from the president's campaign. First to Romney, who took a victory lap of sorts after a strong debate performance. Tonight he addressed a swing state crowd of supporters in coal country: Fishersville, Virginia.

MITT ROMNEY: I got the chance to ask the president questions that people across the country have wanted to ask him, such as: Why is it that he pushed Obamacare at a time when we had 23 million people out of work?

BLOCK: NPR's Ari Shapiro is traveling with the Romney campaign, and he joins me now. And, Ari, the mood today of Mitt Romney and the campaign, do they feel like they have the wind at their back?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Absolutely. You have to remember that for the last couple of weeks, there was a growing consensus among Democrats and a fear among Republicans that the Romney campaign was sort of the walking dead. I mean, he was trailing in important swing state polls. News organizations were writing pre-mortems of all the things that had gone wrong with his campaign. He could not catch a break.

And then last night he looked composed, assertive, in command of the facts, and also human, telling stories of voters, of his wife Ann, of his five sons. He dug deep into the weeds on issues, from taxes to health care, to financial regulation. It helps sort of get rid of the cobwebs and gloom that have been surrounding his campaign and hits the ignition in a way that was absolutely necessary if he wanted any chance of winning in a month.

BLOCK: One of the key issues at the debate last night, Ari, had to do with taxes. It took up more time than anything else. And the message that Romney was pushing last night, how did that differ from the things that we heard before, if it did?

SHAPIRO: Well, he forcefully pushed back on President Obama's insistence that the Romney tax plan will hurt the middle class. Listen to this cut from the debate.


SHAPIRO: This was part of Romney's overarching, night-long mission to present himself as a defender of the middle class in contrast to Democrats' portrayal of him as an out-of-touch aristocrat who hides his money in the Cayman Islands.

BLOCK: And we should point out, Ari, that Mitt Romney hasn't specified how his tax cuts would avoid adding to the deficit. He doesn't explain how the math would make that happen. But let's move on to what he said about two of President Obama's signature accomplishments: Obamacare and Wall Street regulation. And questions being posed now about whether Mitt Romney has changed his positions on those.

SHAPIRO: Well, on the stump, Romney has always said that he doesn't want to just get rid of all regulations, that he wants to get rid only of burdensome ones. But the chant at his rallies is always repeal - repeal Obamacare, repeal financial reform. So, last night, for many people just tuning in, it sounded like a move toward the center when Romney said he wants to keep the most popular provisions of both of those bills. Here's what he said about his plan to replace Obamacare.


SHAPIRO: I should note an important distinction there. Pre-existing conditions are covered under his plan for people who have insurance. Those who don't are out of luck. That said, here's what Romney said about the Dodd-Frank financial reform plan.


SHAPIRO: Now President Obama says these proposals just won't work. Still, these positions have the effect of making Romney seem like a reasonable centrist rather than the right-wing ideologue that the president tried to paint him as.

BLOCK: And do you assume, Ari, that that's the message that Mitt Romney brings with him to his rallies as he goes forward and to the debates to come?

SHAPIRO: Romney's mission is clearly to present himself over the next month as a reasonable guy who understands Americans. President Obama says it's all a fantasy, that Romney is, to borrow a phrase, shaking the Etch A Sketch. The question is which image will stick with voters for the next month: the one that Democrats have worked so hard to build up until now, or the more moderate one that Romney tried to present last night.

BLOCK: OK. NPR's Ari Shapiro, traveling with the Romney campaign. Ari, thanks so much.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.