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Candidates consumed by debate preparations

By Steve Peoples

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Oct. 15 2012 1:41 a.m. MDT

Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney picks up a baby as he campaigns at The Golden Lamb restaurant in Lebanon, Ohio, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2012.

Charles Dharapak, Associated Press

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — With the White House race barreling toward the finish, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney were staying out of the spotlight Monday, underscoring the intense focus each campaign is placing on the second presidential debate.

Obama's campaign, seeking to rebound from a dismal first debate, promised a more energetic president would take the stage Tuesday at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. Romney's team aimed to build on a commanding opening debate that gave the Republican new life in a White House race that had once appeared to be slipping away from him.

When the two candidates step back into the public eye at the debate, there will be exactly three weeks left until Election Day. But early voting is already underway in dozens of states, including some battlegrounds, giving the candidates little time to recover from any slipups.

Much of the pressure in the coming debate will be on Obama, who aides acknowledge showed up at the first face-off with less practice — and far less energy — than they had wanted. The president and a team of advisers are seeking to regain focus with an intense, three-day "debate camp" at a golf resort in Williamsburg, Va.

"It is going great," Obama said of his preparations Sunday, while taking a brief break to greet volunteers at a nearby campaign office.

Romney, who has made no secret of the huge priority his campaign puts on the debates, was practicing Monday near his home in Massachusetts.

Romney's advisers suggested the Republican nominee would continue to moderate his message — in tone, if not substance — as he did in the Oct. 3 meeting to help broaden his appeal to the narrow slice of undecided voters. In recent days, Romney has promised his tax plan would not benefit the wealthy, emphasized his work with Democrats as Massachusetts governor and downplayed plans to curtail women's abortion rights.

Democrats were dismayed that Obama didn't more aggressively call out Romney's move to the center during the first debate. Since then, the president has been more forceful in doing so on the campaign trail and in television ads.

During debate preparations, aides are working on tailoring that message to a debate format. And they're working on balancing aggressive tactics with the debate's town-hall format, which often requires candidates to show a connection with questioners from the audience.

Romney aides suggested the former Massachusetts governor would be prepared regardless of Obama's adjustments.

"The president can change his style," Romney adviser Ed Gillespie said on "Fox News Sunday." ''He can change his tactics. He can't change his record."

Peoples reported from Belmont, Mass.

Follow Julie Pace at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

Follow Steve Peoples at https://twitter.com/sppeoples

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