DENVER — Looking for a quick recovery from a disappointing debate, President Barack Obama questioned the identity of the "real" Mitt Romney on Thursday, suggesting his Republican rival had not been candid about his policy positions while on stage.

"Gov. Romney may dance around his positions but if you want to be president, you owe the American people the truth," Obama said at a post-debate rally.

Romney's campaign dismissed the criticism as "damage control."

Obama's aggressive stand came as his campaign conceded he will have to adjust his debate style. Wednesday's night event was widely viewed as a win for Romney and a lost opportunity for Obama to connect with the American people as national polls had showed him with a slight advantage heading into their first debate.

Obama said that when he reached the debate stage "I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney. But it couldn't have been Mitt Romney," Obama said, adding that the "real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow on stage last night said he didn't know anything about that."

The president also accused Romney of misrepresenting past statements on education and outsourcing. In tough comments, the president said Romney "does not want to be held accountable ... because he knows full well that we don't want what he's selling."

Obama panned Romney's suggestion during the debate that one way to pare back federal spending is to cut the subsidy for PBS, which airs "Sesame Street." Romney said he likes PBS and "I love Big Bird," but said the country couldn't afford to keep borrowing money from China to pay for things like that.

"When he was asked what he'd actually do to cut the deficit and reduce spending, he said he'd eliminate funding for public television. That was his answer. I mean thank goodness somebody is finally getting tough on Big Bird. It's about time," Obama joked. "We didn't know that Big Bird was driving the federal deficit. But that's what we heard last night. How about that? Elmo, too?"

Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams responded to the accusations of dishonesty by saying Romney demonstrated in the debate why he should be president.

"In full damage-control mode, President Obama today offered no defense of his record and no vision for the future," Williams said. "Rather than a plan to fix our economy, President Obama simply offered more false attacks and renewed his call for job-killing tax hikes."

In a conference call with reporters, Obama senior adviser David Axelrod said the president would make "adjustments" and would need to determine by the next presidential debate on Oct. 16 in Hempstead, N.Y., how best to counter what the campaign considers Romney's evasions on a series of issues.

Comparing it to a playoff game in sports, Axelrod said: "You evaluate after every contest and you make adjustments and I'm sure that we will make adjustments. I don't see us adding huge amounts of additional prep times. There are some strategic judgments that have to be made and we'll make them."

Axelrod sought to turn the questions about the debate into a matter of character, repeatedly accusing Romney of "hiding the truth and the facts" from the American people.

"It was a very vigorous performance, but one that was devoid of honesty," Axelrod said of Romney. He said the Republican presidential nominee offered well-delivered but "fraudulent" lines that will be hard to hold up over the remainder of the campaign.

Building on that narrative, Obama's campaign quickly released an ad questioning Romney's truthfulness, arguing that he didn't level with middle-class families on how his tax plan would affect them. "If we can't trust him here, how could we ever trust him here?" the ad says. It was airing in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio and Virginia.

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  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) greets Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) following the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) greets Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) following the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) greets Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) following the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney went head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (L) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney finish their debate at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, left, shakes hands with President Barack Obama following the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  • President Barack Obama shakes hands with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)

  • President Barack Obama hugs First lady Michelle Obama after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, left, and President Barack Obama speak after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  • Mitt Romney, Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney talk at the end of the first presidential debate in Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Mitt Romney, Barack Obama

    Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama laugh after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney participate in shakes hands with Ann Romney after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and family talk to President Barack Obama and family after the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool, Rick Wilking)

  • Left, President Barack Obama hugs his wife Michelle with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney hugs his wife Ann following the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  • President Barack Obama hugs his wife Michelle following the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Mitt Romney, Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney talk at the end of the first presidential debate in Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Mitt Romney

    Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama gestures during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Mitt Romney

    Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney gestures during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • Mitt Romney

    Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney smiles as President Barack Obama during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • President Barack Obama smiles at moderator Jim Lehrer during the first presidential debate with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaks during the first presidential debate with President Barack Obama at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  • President Barack Obama points to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  • President Barack Obama answers a question of moderator Jim Lehrer during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)

  • Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama smiles as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • President Barack Obama, right, listens to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) and republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) participate in the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012, moderated by Jim Lehrer (C) of the PBS NewsHour. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) speaks during the first presidential debate with US President Barack Obama October 3, 2012 at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Mitt Romney, Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney participate the first presidential debate in Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's shadow is reflected during the first presidential debate President Barack Obama withat the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • President Barack Obama speaks during the first presidential debate with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama listens during his debate with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama debates Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during his debate with US President Barack Obama at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama (R) and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (L) participate in the first presidential debate at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012, moderated by Jim Lehrer (C) of the PBS NewsHour. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Barack Obama, Mitt Romney

    Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, left, and President Barack Obama, right, speak during their first debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • Mitt Romney, Barack Obama

    President Barack Obama answers a question as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney listens during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

  • President Barack Obama listens as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Rick Wilking, Pool)

  • Obama And Romney Square Off In First Presidential Debate In Denver

    DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 03: U.S. President Barack Obama (L) listens as Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) speaks during the Presidential Debate at the University of Denver on October 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The first of four debates for the 2012 Election, three Presidential and one Vice Presidential, is moderated by PBS's Jim Lehrer and focuses on domestic issues: the economy, health care, and the role of government. (Photo by Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

  • Obama And Romney Square Off In First Presidential Debate In Denver

    DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 03: Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama (R) speaks as Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney listens during the Presidential Debate at the University of Denver on October 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The first of four debates for the 2012 Election, three Presidential and one Vice Presidential, is moderated by PBS's Jim Lehrer and focuses on domestic issues: the economy, health care, and the role of government. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

  • Obama And Romney Square Off In First Presidential Debate In Denver

    DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 03: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (L) speaks as Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. President Barack Obama (R) listens during the Presidential Debate at the University of Denver on October 3, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. The first of four debates for the 2012 Election, three Presidential and one Vice Presidential, is moderated by PBS's Jim Lehrer and focuses on domestic issues: the economy, health care, and the role of government. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama listens during his debate with Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    The shadow of Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is projected beneath a copy of The Declaration of Independence during the presidential debate with US President Barack Obama at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney participates in the first presidential debate with US President Barack Obama at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012, moderated by Jim Lehrer of the PBS NewsHour. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/GettyImages)

  • President Barack Obama answers a question during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney speaks during the first presidential debate with President Barack Obama at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, left, listens to President Barack Obama during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

  • President Barack Obama watches as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool, Rick Wilking)

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney points to President Barack Obama during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama speaks during his debate with Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

  • US-VOTE-2012-DEBATE

    US President Barack Obama speaks during his debate with Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney at Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, October 3, 2012. After hundreds of campaign stops, $500 million in mostly negative ads and countless tit-for-tat attacks, Obama and Romney go head-to-head in their debut debate. AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Pool-Michael Reynolds)