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Obama Aims Post-Debate Barbs At Romney As Many Ask: Why'd He Wait?

For President Obama, Thursday appeared to have its share of what the French call staircase wit.

We've all experienced it. Heading up the stairs to bed, you think of the perfect response to something someone else said earlier. Of course, it's too late.

The day after his widely panned presidential debate performance, Obama delivered the sort of retorts to his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, that were mainly absent the night before.

At a Denver rally, Obama told the crowd:

"When I got onto the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney. (Laughter from the crowd.) But it couldn't have been Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts to favor the wealthy. The fellow on stage last night said he didn't know anything about that.

"The real Mitt Romney said we don't need anymore teachers in our classrooms. (Boos from the crowd.) Don't boo. Vote. (Laughter. Cheers.) But the fellow on stage last night, he loves teachers. He can't get enough of them ..."

Then there was this:

OBAMA: "And when he was asked what he'd actually do to cut the deficit and reduce spending, he said he'd eliminate funding for public television. (Boos.) That was his answer.

"I mean, thank goodness somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird. (Laughter.) It's about time."

His responses to Romney left Obama supporters, journalists, MSNBC hosts and perhaps even some of his political opponents puzzled. Why didn't the president direct barbs at Romney when 60 million people were watching the first presidential debate?

A Romney campaign spokesman, Ryan Williams, responded to the president's comments:

"In full damage-control mode, President Obama today offered no defense of his record and no vision for the future. Rather than a plan to fix our economy, President Obama simply offered more false attacks and renewed his call for job-killing tax hikes. Last night, Mitt Romney demonstrated why he should be President, laying out the clear choice in this election. We can't afford four more years of the last four years. We need a real recovery — and Mitt Romney has a real plan to deliver it."

For Obama, Thursday was also about signaling that he was relishing the next debate, a town hall-style forum scheduled for Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in which the candidates will be asked about foreign and domestic policy.

At a large rally later in the day in Madison, Wis., Obama said:

OBAMA: "Now, I — I don't know who's going to show up at the next debate, but I do know that the real Mitt Romney said it was tragic to end the war in Iraq. He won't tell us how he'd end the war in Afghanistan. I have and I will. And I'm going to use the money that we're no longer spending on war to pay down our debt and to put more people back to work rebuilding roads and bridges and schools and runways."

When Obama uttered a similar line at the Denver rally earlier in the day, an audience member shouted out instructions to the president: "Take him to the shed!"

From how Obama sounded throughout the day, he didn't need much encouragement.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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