DENVER - Amid the widespread judgment by the news media that Mitt Romney beat President Barack Obama in their first debate, top aides to the incumbent argued that the challenger came off as unlikable and failed to offer the policy specifics Americans want.
"The governor had a tough debate, he was testy. He wanted to argue with both the moderator and the president. I think if you're sitting out there, the American public, is that what you want for the next four years?" Obama campaign manager Jim Messina told reporters. (Messina used the word "testy" at least five times in a three-minute scrum within the cavernous media workspace).
And Obama's aides predicted that the rhetorical bout would not win over undecided voters in battleground states to the Republican's cause.
"We don't care about national polls," White House senior adviser David Plouffe told reporters when asked whether he expected polls to show Romney gaining. "We have deep respect for voters in New York and Alabama" but "they won't contribute anything" because "they're red or blue."
"Is Ohio tied? Is Nevada tied? Has Romney taken the lead in some of them? That's all that matters," Plouffe said. "What is Romney's path to 270? Is Ohio now fundamentally different? I absolutely reject that."Messina also emphasized the "race to 270 electoral votes."
"In states like Ohio and Virginia and Florida, Romney's positions on tax cuts, on Medicare, are going to be real problems for him," he said. "And he doubled down on those all night."
Both aides played down the notion that Obama seemed subdued, even on the defensive, as Romney pressed him again and again on issues like the sour economy.
"The president's job was to deliver a case to the American people about where he wants to take the country and how that contrasts with Mitt Romney not to entertain with a bunch of zingers," Plouffe said.
"Romney was always going to have a good night on style points … but, look, we won this debate," Messina said. "We're going to win on substance. The president was more likable tonight."
The debate was, in part, notable for what wasn't said: Obama never unleashed some of his campaign's main attack lines against Romney. There was no reference to Romney's caught-on-tape condemnation of 47 percent of Americans as dependent on government handouts, for instance.
"That stuff didn't naturally come up in the course of the conversation. Obviously it's been a big part of our campaign, we'll continue to do that," Messina said.
"There was no reason" to bring it up, Plouffe said. "We don't talk about the 47 percent in most of our speeches."
"We're not going to worry so much about the pundit scorecards of our performance," Plouffe said.
Watch the entire debate on Yahoo! News: