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Obama: "too polite" on "bad" debate night

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event in The Oval at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio October 9, 2012, ending a thre
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign event in The Oval at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio October 9, 2012, ending a thre

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Wednesday he was "too polite" in a presidential debate that stunned many of his supporters and re-energized Republican rival Mitt Romney's campaign, and promised a more aggressive approach in the two remaining encounters.

The latest polls show Romney has erased Obama's once substantial lead and made it a dead heat in the final stretch to the November 6 election in the wake of last week's debate that the Republican was widely judged to have won handily.

"I think it's fair to say I was just too polite," Obama said on the "Tom Joyner Morning Show" radio program. "But, you know, the good news is that's just the first one. ... I think it's fair to say that we will see a little more activity at the next one."

Obama insisted the "fundamentals" of the race for the White House remained unchanged despite a "bad night" for him.

"Governor Romney had a good night. I had a bad night," Obama told the "ABC World News" program in his first television interview since the October 3 face-off in Denver.

"It's not the first time I've had a bad night. But I think what's important is the fundamentals of what this race is about haven't changed," Obama said as he sought to play down the overall impact. "You know, Governor Romney went to a lot of trouble to try to hide what his positions are."

The Romney camp said it was not just a single sluggish performance that explained the president's slide in the polls.

"We heard from President Obama that he believed he had a ‘bad night' during the first debate, but in reality, he's had a bad four years and the American people suffered because of it," Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said.

According to a Reuters/Ipsos tracking poll released on Wednesday, Romney has pulled ahead of Obama in the race for the first time in more than a month and leads 45 percent to 44 percent among likely voters.

Pressed by "ABC World News" anchor Diane Sawyer for an explanation of what went wrong in the first of three presidential debates, Obama appeared reluctant to offer much insight.

"Maybe this is because I played a lot of sports when I was a kid, and still do," he said. "If you have a bad game, you just move on. You look forward to the next one. And it makes you that much more determined. The difference between this and sports is that the stakes are so high."

Asked flat-out whether his debate performance had handed the election to Romney, Obama said, "No."

Sawyer then asked him whether he believed he would win.

"Yes," he said.

"You want it more than the first time?" she asked.

"Absolutely," Obama replied.

Obama's aides have acknowledged he will make some adjustments for the next debate - a townhall-style event in Hofstra University in New York state on Tuesday.

They have hinted he will use a more aggressive approach after even his own supporters criticized him for being too passive in Denver.

(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick and Mark Felsenthal; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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