As he headed to Virginia on Thursday, Romney was more upbeat than he had been in weeks. He grinned widely as he laughed and talked with aides at the front of his campaign plane. The atmosphere among his staff and advisers on the plane was jovial.
Obama's campaign wasted little time trying to dampen the mood, with David Axelrod, the president's campaign strategist, saying: "It was a very vigorous performance, but one that was devoid of honesty." ''.... I don't think he helped himself last night with his serial evasions and deceptions."
To a certain extent, there's a fissure between Romney's message on the campaign trail and in television advertising.
He declared in the debate, for example, that government regulation "is essential." Asked whether he thought it was excessive under Obama's leadership, Romney told a Denver audience a day later: "In some places, yes. Other places, no."
But Romney is running an ad on Colorado television on the same topic that says: "Excessive government regulations are crushing job creation."
On health care, Romney said in the debate that "pre-existing conditions are covered in my plan," a reference to the popular provision in the president's health care overhaul that prevents insurance companies from denying coverage to certain people.
But in recent months, the Romney campaign has repeatedly clarified that only those who maintain continuous health care coverage would be protected.
And while immigration was not addressed in the debate, Romney earlier in the week told The Denver Post that he would honor temporary work permits for young illegal immigrants granted by the Obama administration.
Throughout the Republican primary, however, Romney took an aggressive tack on immigration, saying in debates that he approved of "self-deportation," where illegal immigrants would choose to leave on their own because they couldn't find work in the U.S. He assailed rival Rick Perry, the Texas governor, for allowing illegal immigrants to attend Texas state colleges and universities at reduced, in-state tuition rates.
Associated Press writers Kasie Hunt in Denver and Ken Thomas and Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.