ABOARD THE ROMNEY PLANE EN ROUTE TO VIRGINIA—Reporters couldn't quite see Mitt Romney, but they could hear him.
As his campaign plane crawled along the tarmac in Denver the morning after his first debate with President Barack Obama, the Republican nominee's distinctive laugh could be heard repeatedly in the front cabin of his aircraft.
"Ha ha ha," Romney laughed again and again.
It wasn't clear what was so funny. While reporters expected Romney to make an appearance in the rear cabin of his plane to speak to them, as he has after most big days for his campaign, the GOP nominee kept his distance from his traveling press corps—even though, by all outward appearances, he was in a good mood.
Instead, Romney left it to his campaign aides to respond to Obama's charge that he hadn't been debating the "real Mitt Romney" on Wednesday night. The attack line was the subject of a hastily assembled Obama TV ad as the Democrat seeks to regain his footing after a debate performance that was ridiculed even by the president's supporters.
Asked to respond, Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney aide, seemed exasperated: "You can't trust the Obama campaign's ads," he said. "The Obama campaign is just wrong. They have been flat out repudiated in terms of their assertions and their statements."
Gillespie pointed to Obama's claim Wednesday night that Romney would approve a $5 trillion tax cut—a charge the GOP nominee strongly denied.
"They use the word 'assume' or 'assumption,'" Gillespie said. "I could assume… I could assume the Redskins are going to win the Super Bowl this year. That's an assumption."
"PLEASE," one reporter groaned.
Gillespie laughed and quickly shifted back into the campaign's usual talking points, arguing the debate set up a "choice" for voters.
"We can't afford four more years like the last four years," he declared.
As Gillespie spoke, Romney was in his usual seat at the front of the plane. As his plane descended into Virginia, a battleground state that his campaign views as a must-win in November, the candidate peeked around his seat and spoke to someone seated behind him.
He was smiling.