Oct. 17, 2012 -- President Obama, Mitt Romney, and their surrogates were back on the road today, fanning out across battleground states as the campaigns hustled to magnify and manage perceptions about Tuesday night's bruising debate in New York.
Obama, who delivered to his base the kind of energetic and aggressive performance they had been clamoring for since Romney had the run of the candidates' first meeting, flew into Iowa for an afternoon rally before heading for the Buckeye state to speak with supporters at Ohio University in Athens. It was the president's 31st trip to Ohio since he took office.
On his first stop, just outside Cedar Rapids, Obama seized on Romney's now meme-ified claim that, in his quest to find female cabinet members in Massachusetts, he picked from "binders full of women" provided to him by outside organizations.
"I've got to tell you, we don't have to collect a bunch of binders to find qualified, talented, driven young women," Obama said.
And like he did Tuesday night, the president called Romney's tax plan as a "sketchy deal" that would only benefit the wealthiest few Americans.
Vice President Joe Biden backed up his boss' zinger, describing Romney as "a little, how can I say it, sketchy?"
"Folks, these are the only guys I've ever heard, out of any guys I've ever met, who thought that not telling you now, but telling you after the election, constituted leadership," Biden said, pointing to questions about what tax deductions would be eliminated under the Romney-Ryan plan.
While Biden rallied supporters in swing state Colorado and Obama courted them in Iowa and Ohio, Romney spent the day in Virginia, another toss-up. The Republican led a campaign rally in Chesapeake before making the four-hour trip north to Leesburg.
Like Obama, the Republican echoed the night before, recalling a woman who asked during the town hall debate what he would do to "rectify" gender inequality in the workplace.
"This president has failed America's women," Romney declared, making reference to broad statistics he said show more women in economic distress. "They've suffered in terms of getting jobs, they've suffered in terms of falling into poverty."
His campaign also released a web video today titled "Cabinet Members – Humanity," which features three former aides, all female, testifying to Romney's dedication to equality in the workforce.
"He totally gets working women," one former staffer says in the clip, which plays above a caption stating: "Women who worked with Mitt Romney were struck by his humanity and his sensitivity. They understood just how important it is to work for someone that respects them and the work they do – both at home and in the workplace."
With less than three weeks now until Election Day, Obama, Romney, and their running mates are zeroing on the handful of states still in the balance. Their charge: Stir supporters whose motivation to vote might be wavering and get them to the polls.
"Both candidates decided they were going to rouse partisans," ABC News' George Stephanopoulos said moments after Obama and Romney left the ring in New York Tuesday night, "rouse supporters and not so much worry about uncommitted voters."
John Hudak, a governance studies fellow at the Brookings Institution, believes that more combative tone will translate into a bigger boost for the president than Romney.
"It is unlikely [Obama] convinced many swing voters to 'unswing,' but he certainly generated greater voter enthusiasm among Democrats, which—when combined with Biden's performance in his debate—will begin to show up in polls, will change 'Likely Voter' models, and will result in the president picking up a few points," Hudak told ABC News.
Obama made his intentions clear from the outset. After Romney responded to a student's question about his post-grad job prospects by pointing to "a five-point plan that gets America 12 million new jobs in four years," the president jumped up to respond.
"Governor Romney's says he's got a five-point plan?" he asked, a hint of mocking disbelief in his voice. "Governor Romney doesn't have a five-point plan. He has a one-point plan. And that plan is to make sure that folks at the top play by a different set of rules. That's been his philosophy in the private sector, that's been his philosophy as governor, that's been his philosophy as a presidential candidate."
Obama also took an aggressive tack in combating Romney's accusation that the administration had done too little to prevent the deadly attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
"This was Obama's biggest weakness and he turned it into his finest moment," Hudak said. "He balanced taking responsibility with deflected blame. He praised Secretary Clinton, rather than throwing her under the bus and changed the conversation away from what happened in Libya and toward Romney's politicizing the issue and scolded him for his response."
During a particularly dramatic exchange about mid-way through the encounter, Obama stood up, took a place at the front of the stage, then addressed Romney over his shoulder.
"The suggestion that anybody in my team, whether the secretary of state, our U.N. ambassador, anybody on my team would play politics or mislead when we've lost four of our own, governor, is offensive," Obama said, a severe look in his eyes. "That's not what we do. That's not what I do as president, that's not what I do as commander-in-chief."
SEE PHOTOS: Romney's 'Binders Full of Women' Goes Viral