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Clock ticking on election, campaigns look to next debates

/ Source: NBC News

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.

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.)

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.