How Low Can (Expectations) Go?

PHOTO: President Barack Obama delivers remarks during a campaign, left, and Mitt Romney, speaks about the Supreme Court's health care ruling.
Cliff Owen; Charles Dharapak/AP Photo

With the first of three presidential debates set to kick off Wednesday night in Colorado, both President Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney have retreated from the campaign trail for a final, intensive round of preparations. A necessary break, top aides might say, given that both candidates are, apparently, innately unfit and practically unprepared to stand on a stage for 90 minutes and talk about issues like taxes and immigration.

The pre-debate "expectations game" is a rite of the election season. Flacks from both sides have done their best to convince voters and the media just how little should be expected from their respective bosses. In reality, their comments are little more than an attempt to safeguard against what might be perceived, however subjectively, as an unflattering performance by the candidate.

So now, with a bit more than 48 hours until Obama and Romney step into the ring at the University of Denver, here's a look at what the campaigns are saying:

On Obama: 'President Obama is a uniquely gifted speaker, and is widely regarded as one of the most talented political communicators in modern history.'

Longtime Romney aide Beth Myers dropped this pearl into her 475-word memo celebrating Obama's "ample rhetorical gifts" and place as a "universally-acclaimed public speaker."

"Voters already believe -- by a 25-point margin -- that President Obama is likely to do a better job in these debates," Myers writes, before recounting the president's 2008 conquests -- first there was Hillary Clinton, then Sen. John McCain -- and the "valuable experience" he has taken from them.

Note: She only addresses "modern history," which we can take to mean that Cicero and Brutus remain outside President Obama's formidable reach. (For now. Check back on Thursday morning.)

On Obama: 'He has a tendency to give longer substantive answers, it's just his nature. ... That's something clearly we're working on.'

Here, Jen Psaki, Obama's traveling press secretary, laments the president's terrible habit of speaking in complete (and, as she alleges, fact-ridden) sentences.

On Romney: Romney campaign staffers 'fully expect' Wednesday's debate 'to be their turning point. And we know people want to write a comeback-kid story.'

  If Romney can't beat Obama in a fair fight, Psaki explains, then the media is sure to put its collective finger on the scale.

On Obama: 'The president was a very effective debater in the last round. He's a brilliant orator. I would expect him to be very effective on the debate stage.'

Mitt Romney went on the record with his high praise of President Obama's oratory skills during a chat with ABC News' David Muir in late July.

On Obama: 'He could fall off the stage.'

 Speaking of the "debate stage," hard to be effective (see above) if you've gone tumbling off it. Obama aide Jen Psaki laid out this potentially unnerving outcome last week when asked to describe the campaign's "nightmare scenario." 

On Romney: 'I mean, if you just look at the assessment of the debates in 2008, that Barack Obama became the nominee of his party, in some ways in spite of his debate performances, and Mitt Romney became the nominee of his party because of them.'

 White House Press Secretary Jay Carney chimed in with this appraisal, which should bear special attention because Carney was a member of the political press during Obama's 2008 debate tour. Carney left Time magazine, where he was Washington bureau chief, shortly after the election to become Vice President-Elect Joe Biden's communications director and on Jan.11, 2011, went to work for the president.

On Romney: '[Rob Portman] keeps beating me up [in mock debates]. I go away shaking my head saying, 'This guy's really something.''

Such is President Obama's brilliance, even the guy just pretending to be him during sparring sessions, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, "beats up" on Romney, per Romney.

On Obama: 'This will be the eighth one-on-one presidential debate of his political career. For Mitt Romney, it will be his first.'

More from Myers, who pads Obama's debate appearance statistics, apparently including some of the one-on-one clashes between then-Sen. Obama and Hillary Clinton. Romney, it's true, never shared the stage with fewer than two other candidates during the Republican primary season. Of course, it's also true that he once debated, on his own, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy during a failed 1994 Senate run.

On Romney: 'So, we've discussed the debates and I'll be prepared.'

Tough talk here from Mitt Romney, who seems to have misplaced his talking points.

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