DENVER On the morning after the first presidential debate, President Obama mocked the Mitt Romney he encountered last night as decidedly different from "the real Mitt Romney" on the campaign trail.
"The man on stage last night doesn't want to be held accountable for the real Mitt Romney and what he's been saying for the last year," the president told a campaign rally at a local park.
He said "the real Mitt Romney" advocates $5-trillion in tax cuts largely for the wealthy, but the Romney at the debate "didn't know anything about that."
Mr. Obama added "the real Mitt Romney" doesn't advocate more teachers in schools, but the Romney at the debate said he loves teachers and "can't get enough of them."
"Gov. Romney may dance around his positions," the president told an estimated 11,200 supporters at his rally, "but if you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth."
Further, he ridiculed Romney's statement that he would reduce the deficit by cutting funding for PBS.
"Thank God someone is getting tough on Big Bird," the president said derisively. "We didn't know Big Bird was driving the deficit."
"And Elmo," shouted someone in the crowd, referring to another Sesame Street character made famous on PBS.
"Elmo too," said the president.
The remarks were part of an Obama campaign effort at damage control, for a debate in which their candidate was widely seen as pummeled by Romney.
The campaign pushed aside Romney's performance in the debate that drew surprised raves from many pundits. Campaign officials and supporters tried instead to focus attention on what Romney, portraying it as either dishonest or lacking in detail.
"Governor Romney came in and basically played a shell game," said campaign senior adviser David Axelrod referring to Romney's plan to cut taxes without expanding the federal deficit.
"Again and again and again," said Axelrod of what Romney said, "he told a story to the American people that is completely in contrast with what he said before and unfounded in fact."
At an Obama campaign rally this morning in a Denver park, thousands of supporters turned out in a 40-degree chill. Entertainment by singer Will I. Am was a draw as well. And when asked if they believe "the new Mitt Romney," the crowd shouted "no."
In advance of Mr. Obama's arrival, Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., slammed Romney for the "disingenuous lines" he delivered at the debate.
And Udall asked the crowd, "wasn't the president thoughtful, dignified, substantive and truthful last night?" It agreed.
But supporters of Mr. Obama expressed disappointment in his debate performance. They said he failed to raise issues on which Romney is vulnerable including his "47 percent" comments in the fundraising video, his actions as head of Bain Capital and his refusal to release more than two years of tax returns.
Chris Matthews was one of several MSNBC hosts apoplectic about Pres. Obama's performance for failing to strongly confront Romney.
"Where was Obama," Matthews shouted into the camera. "What was Romney doing? He was winning."