The growing sense of optimism inside the Romney campaign about his place in the race was visible in the newly relaxed faces of its senior advisers as they lounged poolside at their hotel in nearby Delray Beach before Monday’s debate, ticking through states where they see new opportunities and rising poll numbers. Back in Boston, a senior aide marveled at how much the mood had changed from one month ago, gallows humor giving way to a realization that “we’re in it.”
It remained a question whether Mr. Romney was gaining steam or riding a head of it from the strongest month of his campaign. Obama officials argued that the president’s showing at the debate on Monday would remind wavering voters of his leadership in foreign affairs, a strong suit. They emphatically pointed to advantages he still holds in enough important swing states as their life line.
“This race has automatically tightened as everybody in the Obama campaign predicted that it would, but he’s ahead in the critical states,” said Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, Mr. Obama’s debate sparring partner.
But it is now unmistakable that Mr. Obama, who leaned forward in his chair at several points during the debate and glared at his rival, is focused on protecting some of his safest turf and Mr. Romney is seeing new opportunities to take it.