DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Appearing alongside his running mate at a beachside rally here Friday night, Mitt Romney dismissed President Obama's recent stump speech punch lines as "silly word games" meant to distract from his failures in office.
Romney sought to strike a tone of disappointment as he accused Obama of lacking a second-term agenda.
"They've been reduced to petty attacks and silly word games," he said. "Just watch. The Obama campaign has become the incredible shrinking campaign."
On its surface, the carnival-like setting may not have been the optimal place to project presidential seriousness. Standing on stage against the backdrop of an artificial castle in the middle of an outdoor mall, Romney and running mate Paul Ryan addressed roughly 10,000 raucous supporters, many of whom were motorcycle enthusiasts in town for "Biketoberfest."
Outside the perimeter, protesters heckled, women grinded on poles, and intoxicated revelers at a Bubba Gump Shrimp spilled beer as they danced to the campaign soundtrack blasting out of the speakers. From inside the rally, reporters witnessed at least two people throw up on the sidewalk.
But the message is one Romney has been pushing all week, especially since Tuesday night's debate, where both candidates grew feisty, and even petulant, as they sparred in the town hall meeting. Their respective post-debate strategies appear to reflect the hurdles each one needs to overcome.
Obama, seeking to reopen the gender gap and appeal to women voters, seized on his opponent's awkward wording, working "binders full of women" into his stump speech. And on Friday, he gave a funny, spirited speech in Virginia diagnosing the Republican nominee with what he called "Romneysia," an affliction that has caused him to forget his policy positions. For Obama, it was a return to the loose, charismatic presence he brought to the stump in 2008, and it seemed geared toward reminding voters how much they liked him.
Romney, unable to compete with Obama in a likability contest, is instead presenting himself as a sober, authoritative figure, one who can rise above the name-calling and fix the country's problems.
Of course, it won't be easy to convince voters that he's more presidential than the president. But as he heads toward the final debate Monday night — when he will have to discuss in-depth foreign policy while standing next to the commander-in-chief — Romney is doing all he can to present himself as a plausible alternative.