Presidential campaigns play expectations game ahead of debate
The campaigns of Republican Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama sought to set benchmarks for their performance in the first debate two days from now as both candidates intensified preparations.
Romney is staying close to home in Boston and Obama set up camp in Nevada, a state he's trying to keep in his corner amid high unemployment and a devastated housing market.
Obama arrived in Las Vegas yesterday and held an evening rally featuring Mana, a Grammy-winning Mexican rock band. The president encouraged Hispanics, young people and union workers to participate in the state's early voting that begins Oct. 20.
"Governor Romney, he's a good debater. I'm just OK," Obama told about 11,000 supporters at Desert Pines High School in East Las Vegas. "What I'm most concerned about is having a serious discussion" about keeping the U.S. economy growing and restoring security for middle-income Americans.
The Oct. 3 debate in Denver, on domestic policy, will give Romney the opportunity to put some campaign missteps behind him, Romney running mate Paul Ryan and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on Sunday news shows.
Christie said on CBS' "Face the Nation" that Romney has had "a tough couple of weeks, let's be honest" and will use the first debate to turn the race "upside down" and make it a "barn-burner."
Ryan, on "Fox News Sunday," set expectations lower, saying, "I don't think any one event is going to make or break this campaign."
Sparring Partner • Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, stayed in Boston yesterday to practice with Ohio Republican Senator Rob Portman, who is playing Obama in the private sessions.
Among the missteps that Romney is trying to over come is his description of 47 percent of Americans as feeling entitled to government aid. Romney's comment, made in May, surfaced in a secretly recorded video first publicized Sept. 17 by Mother Jones magazine. Obama regularly refers to the comments in his campaign speeches, included his remarks last night.
Romney "acknowledges himself that was an inarticulate way of describing how we're worried that, in a stagnant Obama economy, more people have become dependent on government because they have no economic opportunity," said Ryan, a Wisconsin representative and chairman of the House Budget Committee.
Running to Win • Ryan said the Republican ticket is "running against an incumbent president with incredible resources." Still, the Wisconsin Republican said, "We are going to win this race."
While Romney made no public appearances yesterday, he lambasted Obama's Middle East policies in a column on the Wall Street Journal website.
"Our values have been misapplied and misunderstood by a president who thinks that weakness will win favor with our adversaries," Romney writes, criticizing Obama for not having a stronger tie with Israel in confronting Iran.
"When we say an Iranian nuclear-weapons capability and the regional instability that comes with it is unacceptable, the ayatollahs must be made to believe us," Romney says in the column.
Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by telephone on Sept. 28. The two men didn't meet, although Netanyahu was in the U.S. for the annual meeting of the UN General Assembly.
Debate Prep • Today, Romney will resume debate preparation near his Belmont, Mass., home, then travel to Denver for an evening rally at the Wings Over the Rockies Air and Space Museum.
The president and his campaign team are rehearsing behind closed doors at a resort in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, close enough to population centers to facilitate occasional public events during his stay.
Among those with the president are Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, a former Democratic presidential candidate who is playing Romney in debate preparations.
Romney and Obama also will meet in debates on Oct. 16 and Oct. 22, while Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden will debate on Oct. 11.
Nevada Challenges • Nevada, with six electoral votes, was won by Obama in 2008 with 55 percent of the vote. Since then, it's been one of the states hardest hit by the recession that ended in June 2009. The unemployment rate was 12.1 percent for August, the highest in the nation and about four percentage points above the national average. The real-estate data firm CoreLogic Inc. said about 61 percent of Nevada homeowners with mortgages owe more than their properties are worth.
Obama leads Romney by 3.8 percentage points, according to the average of six state polls conducted Sept. 14-25 and compiled by the website Real Clear Politics.
Obama has visited Nevada 16 times as president and eight times this year, according to his campaign, which has 27 offices in the state.
Democrats lead Republicans in voter registration, 590,918 to 484,015, with 241,876 registered as nonpartisan, according to August statistics released by the Nevada Secretary of State's office.
A top adviser to Obama said yesterday that Obama's lead in the polls will shrink after the debate because Romney will get a boost from being on the same stage as the president.
"This race is going to tighten," David Plouffe said on NBC's "Meet the Press." On ABC's "This Week," Plouffe said, "We believed all along that Governor Romney probably has more benefit out of this debate potentially than we do."
With assistance from Julie Hirschfeld Davis in Boston, Massachusetts and Mark Drajem, Don Frederick and Cotten Timberlake in Washington.