Can Barack Obama Mount a Credible Debate Comeback?

PHOTO: President Barack Obama speaks during his debate with Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado, Oct. 3, 2012.
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Nervous Democrats reeling from President Barack Obama's lackluster debate performance and seemingly sudden change of fortunes in the polls are being comforted by one thought: when it counts, his supporters say, he always pulls though.

"So far every time, he's done it," said one former Obama administration aide. "He's the cat with the nine lives; at the end of the day the fundamental still favor him."

Obama's Democratic allies are hoping that his next debate performance will undo the damage of his first showing, and that once again, Obama will successfully pull out a last-minute victory.

Tune in to ABCNews.com on Tuesday for livestreaming coverage of the second 2012 Presidential Town Hall Debate in Hempstead, N.Y. Coverage kicks off with ABC News' live preview show at noon, and full debate coverage begins at 8 p.m.

Obama campaign aides have begun using words like "aggressive" and "passionate" to describe the Obama voters will see in the second presidential debate on Tuesday.

"He didn't meet his own expectations," said Obama campaign adviser Robert Gibbs on CNN's State of the Union, Sunday. "He knew when he walked off that stage, and he also knew as he's watched the tape of that debate, that he's got to be more energetic."

According to Bill Galston, senior fellow of governance at the Brookings Institution and former Clinton administration senior advisor, when Obama is down, his competitive instinct kicks in.

"I can only imagine how an intensely competitive person is receiving the negative reviews his debate performance garnered," Galston said. "I've got to believe there's fire in his belly now to go and turn this around in the second debate."

And as New York Times Columnist Maureen Dowd put it in her column following the debate, Obama "performs better when his back is against the wall; he has some subconscious need to put himself in challenging positions."

If past is prologue, the signs of an Obama comeback can be found in his responses to past political crises.

At a critical moment early in the 2008 Democratic primary when Obama suffered a surprising loss in the New Hampshire primaries, the campaign retooled. What happened in the aftermath helped solidify Obama's moniker "no-drama Obama."

"Situations like that can typically produce a lot of good reporting about infighting," said Galston. "I don't recall any of that. And that starts from the top."

Months later, one of his biggest political problems came in the form of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his controversial former Chicago pastor.

At first the campaign brushed off inquires about Wright, hoping it would pass with the 24 hour news cycle. But when the controversy threatened to spiral out of control, Obama delivered a speech on race that many credited with saving his campaign and changing the conversation from his association with Wright to the country's racial history.

That moment also became synonymous for a strategy that the Obama campaign has employed several times since then—elevating the conversation.

Republican speechwriter Peggy Noonan called the speech "strong, thoughtful and important" in a Wall Street Journal editorial in 2008.

As president, another Obama crisis management strategy came to a fore: stay the course.

When Democrats were urging the White House to get tough with Republicans during the debt ceiling negotiations of 2011, the White House stuck to their negotiation strategy. Finally, hours before the country defaulted, a deal was reached.

"I think that experience might lead him to believe that he should try to hang tough," said Dean Baker, co-founder of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "He's showed a number of times that when he's faced with real pressure he can stand up."

Obama himself acknowledged that he "had a bad night," but promised that when he and Mitt Romney met on the debate stage again, it would be under different circumstances.

"This was one event. We've got four weeks to go. Nobody is going to be fighting harder than I am," Obama told ABC's Diane Sawyer in an exclusive interview last week. "What they need is to make sure they tune in on Tuesday next week."

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