and KASIE HUNT

DENVER -- Buoyed by a powerful debate showing, Mitt Romney said he offers "prosperity that comes through freedom" to a country struggling to shed a weak economy.

President Barack Obama accused the former Massachusetts governor of running from his own record in pursuit of political power.

Both men unleashed new attack ads Thursday in the battleground states in a race with little more than a month to run, Obama suggesting Romney couldn't be trusted with the presidency, and the Republican accusing the president of backing a large tax increase on the middle class.

The debate reached 67.2 million viewers, an increase of 28 percent over the first debate in the 2008 presidential campaign. The measurement and information company Nielsen said Thursday that 11 networks provided live coverage of the debate.

Already committed? A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that the vast majority of voters already have settled on a candidate, but 17 percent of likely voters are

considered persuadable -- either because they're undecided or showing soft support for Obama or Romney.

The group is generally less informed than the average voter and more moderate politically.

Roughly 56 percent of persuadables approve of the way Obama is handling his job as president, but fewer, 47 percent, approve of his handling of the economy.


Advertisement

Romney said in an interview with Fox News on Thursday night that had he been asked during their debate about his "47 percent" remarks that caused a stir when they cropped up last month, he would have acknowledged that he had been "just completely wrong." It was a turnabout from his early defense of the remarks -- he had called them "not elegantly stated" -- in which he disparaged the nearly half of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes. He had said they see themselves as victims and are unwilling to take responsibility for their lives.

Boost likely: Not even Democrats disputed that Romney was likely to benefit politically from the debate Wednesday night in which he aggressively challenged Obama's stewardship of the economy and said his own plans would help pull the country out of a slow-growth rut.

"Victory is in sight," Romney exulted in an emailed request for donations to supporters. It was a show of confidence by a man hoping for a quick reversal in pre-debate public opinion polls that showed him trailing in battleground states as well as nationally.

Reprising a line from the debate, he told an audience of conservatives in Denver that Obama offers "trickle-down government." He added, "I don't think that's what America believes in. I see instead a prosperity that comes through freedom."

Obama campaigned with the energy of a man determined to make up for a subpar debate showing. Speaking to a crowd not far from the debate hall, he said mockingly that a "very spirited fellow" who stood next to him onstage Wednesday night "does not want to be held accountable for the real Mitt Romney's positions" on taxes, education and other issues. "Governor Romney may dance around his positions, but if you want to be president you owe the American people the truth," he said.

Later, before a crowd of tens of thousands in Madison, Wis., he said Romney wants to cut federal funding for Public Television while repealing legislation that regulates the banking industry "I just want to make sure I've got this straight: He'll get rid of regulations on Wall Street, but he's going to crack down on Sesame Street," Obama said.

The two men debate twice more this month, Oct. 16 in Hempstead, N.Y. and Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.

Before they do, Vice President Joe Biden and Romney's running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, will share a stage in Danville, Ky. in one week's time.