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NBC News
updated 10/9/2012 12:14:54 PM ET 2012-10-09T16:14:54

Mitt Romney is fighting to earn a new look from voters with 30 days remaining until the election, as President Barack Obama looks to close the window on his Republican challenger.

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Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, has hopes of building momentum off of his strong debate performance this week, in which he generally outperformed Obama with energetic and crisp arguments.

But a top spokesman for the president vowed Sunday that Obama wouldn't allow Romney a repeat performance in their second showdown.

"It's not rocket science to believe the president was disappointed in the expectations he has for himself," former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said on "Meet the Press" of Obama's debate performance, which was panned as lethargic and lacking in aggression.

Of the second debate, scheduled for Oct. 16, Gibbs said, "I think you're going to see a very engaged president that is ready and willing to call out whichever Mitt Romney shows up."

Romney "walked over" Obama in Denver, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, one of Romney's erstwhile primary opponents, contended. But Gingrich also acknowledged that the GOP nominee had "changed" from the primary, when he vowed to cut taxes for individuals in all income brackets. (Romney said in Wednesday's debate that, in his reform plan, the wealthy wouldn't end up paying any less in taxes.)

Video: 30-day countdown: Debate pumps up Republicans

Whether Romney has made up much ground versus Obama hasn't yet been fully reflected in polls conducted since the debate. The Republican hopeful entered the matchup trailing the president, and must make up ground — especially in battleground states like Ohio — if Romney is to have any hope of winning on Nov. 6.

"The real question to me, of this campaign, is, can the Romney campaign take this moment and run with it?" asked Mike Murphy, a longtime Republican consultant with ties to Romney.

Romney won the endorsement of a newspaper in one such swing state, Nevada, as the editors of the Las Vegas Review-Journal said Romney "has the principles and experience needed to put America back on the road to prosperity."

But Obama's case for re-election was bolstered Friday by a new jobs report that showed the unemployment rate at 7.8 percent in September, clearing the psychological barrier of 8 percent, above which the unemployment rate had sat for months.

"I think it was a significant help to the president," Gingrich said of that report.

Obama's advantage over Romney was fueled partly by improving perceptions of the economy, which could be cemented by the new employment data. If nothing else, the president will have a new cudgel to wield against Romney in their next debate matchup.

Both Romney and Obama will leave it to their running mates this week to carry the banner on Thursday, at the vice presidential debate.

"I know Vice President Biden is anxious and ready to do this," Gibbs said of Biden's impending debate versus Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential nominee.

In the meanwhile, both the president and Romney aren't taking the weekend off; instead, they're both on the campaign trail this Sunday. Romney will hold a rally this afternoon in Florida, while Obama attends a "30 days to victory" fundraising concert tonight in Los Angeles.

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Video: Panel revisits first presidential debate

  1. Closed captioning of: Panel revisits first presidential debate

    >> i want to advance this from the economy to the aftermath of the debate. the cover of the noe"the new yorker," mitt romney eastwooding, debating an empty chair. simple question. what happened? this couldn't have been the game plan for this president to go in and by all accounts underperform against a guy whose back was against the wall, who faced a make or break debate.

    >> look, david, it's not rocket science to believe that the president was disappointed in the expectations that he has for himself. but, look, i think part of that was because as i said earlier we met a new mitt romney . we met a mitt romney that wanted to walk away from the central theory of his economic plan, which is his tax cut . i don't have a tax cut that's $4.8 trillion. i'm not going to cut taxes on the rich. i don't have a medicare voucher plan. i love teachers. and i think we need more of them. look, don't believe me. speaker gingrich was pretty eloquent running during the primaries and saying, mitt romney will say absolutely anything to get elected. and if somebody says absolutely anything to get elected you have to wonder what they'll say when they are president of the united states .

    >> so, speaker, you did say he was fundamentally dishonest after debating him in the primaries. this is not a new attack against romney policy.

    >> no. and i think that the challenge for the obama people is pretty simple. the president of the united states had 90 minutes . now, if he had done his homework and actually prepared, if he had actually studied romney , why didn't he say it? why didn't he take romney head on? first of all, the charges on the tax cuts are plain wrong, and i think virtually every analyst has said and even your deputy campaign manager said the charges made are wrong. but forgetting that for a second, the job of the president is supposed to be to competent and stand up for what he believes in and articulate what's wrong. mitt romney walked over him. it's funny that the eastwood now -- just as mr. green paid for this microphone was one of ronald reagan 's breakthrough moments, the weird moment with clint eastwood may be that as well.

    >> the big knock against governor romney here is that he walked away from a $5 trillion tax cut plan. he assumes that tax cuts for growth to make the math work, simpson-bowles says his math doesn't add up. that something has to give. you explode the deficit, raise middle class tax cuts , something has to give which is the point that rob was trying to make.

    >> something has to give. and mike just said maybe the thing that gives is mortgage interest deduction . the single most important thing to middle class american families. and that's going to be -- and we'll get to this later -- that will be a challenge for paul ryan . but, you know, i think that what we are experiencing right now, and we just said it, is that this sort of style over substance is -- i don't think it's going to overtake this race. i think you had a president who was trying to move the facts out. was facing a guy who he hasn't seen before. either mitt romney is completely faking everything he said or he is a liar. so either way .

    >> when you say style over substance shouldn't matter, the truth is optics are important.

    >> ask richard nixon .

    >> well, i was going to go to that, because i do think in fairness it is fair for the american people to want to see their president fight for them. and the barack obama every day that they see on the campaign trail, the barack obama we saw in wisconsin the day after the debate, is a president who is fighting for them. and this president has to do that in those moments when there are millions of people watching

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