(WASHINGTON) — President Obama on Wednesday said in an exclusive interview with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer that he plans to more aggressively confront Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in their second debate next week, trying to allay concerns among supporters that a lackluster first debate performance may have cost him the race.
“Governor Romney had a good night. I had a bad night. It’s not the first time,” Obama said in his first televised interview since the Denver debate on Oct. 3. Despite Romney’s post-debate momentum and surge in the polls, the “fundamentals of what this race is about haven’t changed,” he said.
“This was one event. We’ve got four weeks to go. Nobody is going to be fighting harder than I am,” Obama told Sawyer, aiming to reassure his base. “What they need is to make sure they tune in on Tuesday next week.”
“If you have a bad game you just move on, you look forward to the next one, and it makes you that much more determined,” he said, comparing the political face-off to a sports game.
Asked by Sawyer whether it’s possible that his poor showing had handed Romney the election, Obama replied, “no.”
“You’re going to win?” she asked. “Yes,” Obama said. “You want it more than the first time?” she pressed, noting that some Democrats have questioned whether he remains sufficiently passionate and relentless. “Absolutely,” he said.
Polls show Obama’s lead against Romney nationally and in several key swing states has significantly narrowed — and in some cases been eclipsed — following last week’s debate. Obama and Romney are tied with 48 percent each in the latest national Gallup tracking poll, conducted Oct. 3 through Oct. 9. It has a margin of error of two percentage points.
In the interview, Obama was reluctant to analyze the debate preparations that led to this moment, but he acknowledged that he has since studied a split-screen recording of his debate with Romney and talked it over with his wife Michelle Obama.
“Michelle is always my best adviser, my toughest critic,” Mr. Obama said. “We’ve been married 20 years. We’ve gone through all kinds of ups and downs. And I think that’s true of the American people as well. And I think what folks ultimately have focused on is…those lasting principles, those foundational principles that make this moment so important.”
The president signaled that he is preparing to more aggressively counter Romney’s “sales pitch” at their next encounter, a town hall style meeting at Hofstra University in New York on Oct. 16.
“What he spent most of his time doing [in Denver] was hiding the ideas that he’s been running on for the last year and that the American people had essentially rejected,” Obama said in the interview. “And so they desperately tried to cover up what exactly they’ve been proposing.”
“There’s no doubt that it is on me to make sure that the American people understand that – in crystal-clear fashion” that what Romney is proposing is not new, he added.
Over the past few weeks, Romney has appeared to be trying to moderate his positions on key issues, including taxes, immigration, health care and abortion, forcing Obama to abruptly change his strategy after months of telling voters they should take Romney at his word.
The president cited Romney’s comments on abortion in an interview Tuesday with the Des Moines Register as one example of his challenger trying to “hide” his real views.
“Four weeks before an election, he is trying to cloud the question” on abortion rights, Obama said, “because he understands that most women think they can make their own health care decisions.”
Romney told the paper that “there’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”
The comment appeared to be a marked shift for the GOP candidate who has campaigned as an anti-abortion rights candidate.
“His attempt to try to keep that under wraps until after the election, that’s not going to work,” Obama said. “Because, you know, the American people need to understand what it is that we stand for.”
Romney tried to clarify his abortion stance at an Ohio rally on Thursday, telling supporters there that, “I’m a pro-life candidate and I’ll be a pro-life president.”
Obama claimed his “consistency” on the issues, including abortion rights, is one of the top selling points of his campaign.
“People will know where I stand, what I believe, what I’m fighting for,” he said. “And that’s part of leadership.”
Before the president again takes a debate stage, his Number Two – Vice President Joe Biden – will square off with Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan on Thursday in Danville, Ky.
“I think Joe just needs to be Joe,” Obama said when asked what advice he’d give his running mate. “Congressman Ryan is a smart and effective speaker, but his ideas are the wrong ones,” he said. “Joe understands what it means to scrap and knows what it’s like to see his dad lose a job and understands what it’s like to get incredible opportunities because we live in this incredible country of ours,” he continued. “And when that heart and that story comes out, he’s incredibly effective.”
Meanwhile in Washington, lawmakers were opening hearings into the violent terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and the Obama administration’s mixed messages about what happened there. Some Republicans have accused the White House of orchestrating a cover-up for political gain, a charge administration officials flatly deny.
“This has all been well-documented and recorded: As information came in, information was put out,” Obama explained of the shifting narrative. “The information may not have always been right the first time. And as soon as it turns out that we have a fuller picture of what happened, then that was disclosed,” he said. “But the bottom line is that my job is to let everybody know I want to know what happened, I want us to get the folks who did it, and I want us to figure out what are the lessons learned and ask the tough questions to make sure it doesn’t happen again.” The president said he supports a swift, ongoing investigation – “in consultation with Congress” – following the facts, wherever they lead.
“These are people that I know,” Obama said of the U.S. diplomatic corps serving at outposts sometimes under hazardous or dangerous conditions. “This is something that everybody in this administration takes completely seriously.”
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