DENVER – President Barack Obama left behind any vestige of the listless, halting debater the nation saw Wednesday when he delivered a speech at a Denver rally Thursday before a crowd of about 12,000 supporters.
In addition to his stump speech, which highlighted his plans for expanding domestic energy production, investing in education programs and plans for incentivizing companies to hire more workers, Obama offered a stinging rebuke of his Republican challenger.
"I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney," Obama said. "But it couldn't have been the real Mitt Romney, because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow on stage last night said he didn't know anything about that."
Obama said Romney, who has earned a reputation as a political shape-shifter, did not want to be "held accountable" for the things he's been touting on the campaign trail over the last year.
"And that's because he knows full well that we don't want what he's been selling," Obama said. "But if you want to be the president, you owe the American people the truth. Here's the truth: Gov. Romney cannot pay for his $5 trillion tax plan without growing up the deficit or sticking it to the middle class. That's the math."
The president, who donned a light fleece and khakis to combat the 40 degree temperatures at the outdoor rally at Sloan's Lake Park, also knocked Romney for promising to cut federal funding for public broadcasting during the debate.
"Thank goodness somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird. It's about time," Obama joked. "We didn't know Big Bird was driving the federal deficit, but that's what we heard last night. How about that?"
And while pundits and viewers alike thought the president delivered a subpar, low-energy debate performance, the president chalked it up to the fact that his opponent wasn't being honest.
"I had to spend a lot of time last night trying to pin it down," Obama said.
The crowd, made up of many students, was enthusiastic despite the cold temperatures and panned debate showing. Black Eyed Peas front man Will.I.Am also helped fire up the audience by performing before Obama arrived.
If, as many experts say, Obama's re-election hinges on enthusiasm, this crowd was ready to deliver.
Tamira Murphy of Denver says she voted for Obama four years ago and will do so again.
"He helped with education and he's there for America, and not just the higher class of America. He supports everyone," she says. "It took eight years to mess this country up, let's see what he can do in the next four."
The Metropolitan State College of Denver student says her friends are of the same mind, despite the lackluster economy. She says she listened to Romney last night, but wasn't impressed.
"I was just shocked that all he could say was what Obama was doing instead of telling us what he was trying to do to improve America," Murphy says.
Obama sought to appeal to voters like Murphy by reminding them of the optimism that prompted them to turn out for him four years ago.
"Here in America we believe we're all in this together," he said to cheers. "We understand America is not about what can be done for us but what can be done by us, together, as one nation and as one people."
Obama will hold another rally Thursday in Wisconsin, while Romney is scheduled make a campaign stop in Florida and deliver a foreign policy speech Monday in Virginia.
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Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.