At a rally in the May 6 primary state of North Carolina, Obama drew roars of approval Thursday when he mocked aspects of the presidential debate that had him on the defensive Wednesday night. He faced tough questions about his controversial pastor, his comments about bitter voters in small towns and his relationship with a 1960s radical.
Deadpanning, the Illinois senator said, "It does not get much more fun than these debates. They are inspiring events."
In criticism of his rival, he called the debate "the rollout of the Republican campaign against me in November" and said it represented textbook Washington politics that Clinton was very comfortable playing.
"They like stirring up controversy and they like playing gotcha games, getting us to attack each other," he said. "Senator Clinton looked in her element. She was taking every opportunity to get a dig in there. That's her right to kind of twist the knife a little bit ... that's the lesson she learned when Republicans did it to her in the 1990s."
The Obama campaign also sought to capitalize on the debate, sending out a fundraising appeal titled, "Gotcha," and soliciting $25 donations.
"Last night I think we set a new record because it took us 45 minutes before we even started talking about a single issue that matters to the American people," Obama told the North Carolina crowd. "Forty-five minutes before we heard about health care, 45 minutes before we heard about Iraq, 45 minutes before we heard about jobs, 45 minutes before we heard about gas prices."
ABC News' Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos pointedly questioned Obama, and Clinton politely challenged her rival.
"[Clinton] is always best when she can be on policy grounds, so the second half of that debate was a strong point for her," CBS News senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield said.
"When you're running for the presidency, you've just got to kind of let it ..." Obama said, pretending to flick lint off his pants and jacket.
Another debate between the two candidates seems unlikely. Obama had agreed to a debate in North Carolina on Saturday, Clinton has agreed to a debate April 27 in Raleigh, sponsored and televised by CBS News. The two camps have not agreed on a date.
"I'll be honest with you. We've now had 21," Obama said of the debates. "It's not as if we don't know how to do these things. I could deliver Senator Clinton's lines. I'm sure she could deliver mine."
Later, taking a question from a fourth-grade boy who said he had been elected his class representative at school, Obama asked, "How many debates did you have to have?"
"None," the boy replied.
"None! That sounds good!" Obama said.