They say the president was thrown during the debate by what they call Romney's willingness to abandon his previous positions, including his $5 trillion tax cut proposal. In the next debate — and in television advertisements before then — the Democrat and his aides are expected to accuse Romney of lying about his own plans.
Romney's team, meanwhile, is tempering expectations that tightening national polls will translate into success on the ground in the key states most likely to decide the race. Things may be moving in the right direction, they say, but significant work remains.
Still, they're seeking to paint Obama's campaign as desperate.
"It seems pretty clear that their new strategy is basically just call us liars, to descend down into a mud pit and hopefully, with enough mudslinging back and forth and distortion, people will get demoralized and they can win by default," said Romney running mate Paul Ryan.
Both Democrats and Republicans say internal campaign surveys following last week's debate show Romney has cut into the lead Obama had built up in many key battleground states. But they say Obama still has an advantage in most of the nine or so critical states, including Ohio and Virginia. A lack of independent polling makes it difficult to know whether that's true. Romney pulled ahead of Obama, 49 to 45 percent nationally, among likely voters according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted after the debate.
In a foreign policy speech at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., on Monday, Romney cast himself as a statesman who would be part of a long, bipartisan tradition of American leadership in the world. He said the U.S. should use its power "wisely, with solemnity and without false pride, but also firmly and actively."
At the same time, he is moving away from some of the more conservative positions he pressed during the GOP primary. The shift is aimed at appealing to the independents and disaffected members of both parties who could swing the race. He is to deliver at least two more policy speeches in the coming weeks focused on job growth and debt and spending.