By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — President Barack Obama came to Wisconsin on Thursday with two clear, distinct goals: Remind supporters that early voting starts Oct. 22, and to undo any residual damage from the first presidential debate, which was held the night before.
“I just flew in from Denver and I was telling folks there, when I got on the stage I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney,” Obama told the Madison audience. “But I know 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 that favor the wealthy, and yet the fellow on the stage last night — who looked like Mitt Romney — said he did not know anything about that.”
Obama then launched similar attacks on his Republican rival’s supposed flip-flopping on everything from education to tax breaks for corporations.
“Whoever it was that was on stage last night doesn’t want to be held accountable for what the real Mitt Romney has been saying for the last year,” Obama said. “Governor Romney may dance around his positions. He may do a tap dance and a two step, but if you want to be president, then you owe the American people the truth.”
Pundits and a majority of the public seem to agree that it was GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, not Obama, who won the debate.
“Like his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Obama’s debate performance seemed purposely restrained — striving for a workmanlike competence but achieving something well short of that,” wrote Washington Post blogger Chris Cillizza.
Romney, meanwhile, “was extremely well-prepared and came across as someone more than ready to do the job for which he is running,” Cillizza wrote.
CNN also reported that, according to its poll of registered voters, 67 percent said Romney did better in the debate, versus 25 percent who chose Obama.
The debate, therefore, marks a possible shift in the presidential race that, in recent weeks, has appeared to be favoring Obama.
The president spoke to a capacity crowd of about 30,000 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison — a friendly venue in a friendly town for the Democratic Party. Others who were turned away when the venue filled listened to the speech via nearby speakers.
The vast majority of attendees stood on Bascom Hill, with limited seating at the venue. At times they braved wind and rain, but the weather cleared up by the time the president took the stage.
Some had buyer’s remorse.
“That sucked,” one underwhelmed student was overheard saying to his friend while walking out of Bascom Hill. Asked why, he said, “I’ve been standing since 9 this morning, I was surrounded by thousands of people and I couldn’t see (anything).”
For the most part, though, the audience appeared to walk away satisfied with the president’s speech. They laughed at the president’s jokes at Romney’s expense and cheered wildly when he spoke of ending ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ and his reminder that Osama bin Laden is dead.
Dan Cahler, a freshman from Lake Mills, said he appreciates Obama’s kindness.
“The most important thing to me is, like accepting homeless people and people who unemployed, and I know he’s been really good about that,” Cahler said.
The Marquette Law School poll released Wednesday shows Obama has a nearly 3:1 advantage among Wisconsin’s youngest voters over Romney.
And Madison and Dane County are among Wisconsin’s most heavily Democratic areas.
Not everyone, however, is enamored with the president, though protesters appeared to be few, at least in the direct vicinity of the venue.
A couple of Libertarian critics, for instance, walked down the line of people waiting to enter the Bascom mall area, passing around a fake “agenda” of the president’s speech that included such items as, “Obama explains why it is worth killing hundreds of Pakistani women and children with drone strikes just to get a few militants.”
Aaron McEvoy, co-president for the university’s Young Americans for Liberty Madison chapter, admitted that the group was behind the prank.
He said he feels like a stranger in a strange land in liberal Madison, but the group does find common ground with liberals and conservatives. Libertarians and liberals for the most part agree on ending U.S. Wars — including the war on drugs — and staying out of them, and conservatives and Libertarians share fiscal principles.
McEvoy said he isn’t voting for either major party candidate.
“Everything they say that sounds nice I don’t believe for a second,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything good about Obama to be honest with you.”
McEvoy said Romney “talks a big game” when it comes to reining in the debt, but is a “big-spending” conservative at heart.
Green Party activist Calisa Davis, 23, said Democrats and Republicans alike have sold out to big corporations, and she hopes Americans will give more consideration to third parties.
“There is a lot of that pressure of ‘lesser evil,’ like you’re wasting your vote if you vote for someone else,” Davis said. “But I believe you’re wasting your vote if you vote for Romney or Obama.”
She laughed, “I almost say, ‘Robamney’ every time, because they’re just so similar to me.”
Contact Kirsten Adshead @email@example.com