Obama And Romney Leave Trail For Debate Preps

Obama and Romney camps manage expectations ahead of first debate.

October 01, 2012, 9:43 AM

Oct. 1, 2012 -- President Obama and Mitt Romney are going camping. With less than 72 hours to go until Wednesday night's debate, the candidates have retreated from the campaign trail, gathering with top advisers to prepare for the first of three scheduled primetime meetings.

For Obama, this will be the final "debate camp" of a political career that's seen him move from the Illinois state house to the White House in less than five years. Now, with his first term nearing an end, he'll spend the next three days honing his case for another four years during closed sessions at a lakeside resort in Henderson, Nev., 20 miles outside of Las Vegas.

Tune in to ABCNews.com on Wednesday for livestreaming coverage of the first 2012 Presidential Debate from Denver, Colo. Coverage kicks off with ABC News' live preview show at noon, and full debate coverage begins at 8 p.m.

Romney will leave Boston, Mass., for the Rockies this afternoon, having spent most of the morning and at least three hours Sunday being drilled by his own debate team, with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman standing in as Obama during sparring sessions.

He will hold one more rally, tonight in Denver, before leaving the stump for a final round of preparations.

While the candidates practice in private, their campaigns have been playing the "expectations game." Downplaying anticipation of success will be an uphill battle for the Obama team, as an ABC News/Washington Post poll shows voters, by a 56-29 percent margin, expect the president to "win" the debates. Even more, 63 percent, are betting he'll secure reelection in November.

That first set of numbers will please the Romney camp, which has spent the last few weeks pumping up the president's rhetorical skills.

"The man has been on the national stage for many years," vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan said of Obama, during an interview Fox News Sunday. "He's an experienced debater, he's done these kinds of debates before. This is Mitt's first time on this kind of a stage."

A few days earlier, Romney aide Beth Myers released a memo calling Obama "a uniquely gifted speaker... widely regarded as one of the most talented political communicators in modern history."

Jen Psaki, Obama's traveling press secretary, has been charged by the campaign with tamping down expectations, warning Sunday that "[Obama] has a tendency to give longer substantive answers," something that could, in theory, pose a challenge given the debate's clipped format. "That's something clearly we're working on."

She also promised the president would be ready for the edgy one-liners Romney has ready for debate night, and questioned whether any kind of showing from the challenger, no matter how impressive, could really change the tone of the race.

"When [the Romney campaign] say this will be a game-changing performance and this will change the course of the race, the facts you have to look at are where do the polls stand come next Friday, Saturday and Sunday in places like Ohio," Psaki said. "Is it a two point gap? Is it tied? That's what game changing means, not the kind of zingers that you deliver on Wednesday night."

Whatever Romney brings to the stage Wednesday, expect the president to be prepared. His team, which includes top strategist David Axelrod and Sen. John Kerry, who is playing Romney during mock debates, has been studying years of tape going back to the Republican's 1994 debates with Sen. Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts.

While Obama is secluded outside of Las Vegas, Ann Romney is expected to campaign in Henderson, Nev., today and the Romney campaign has dispatched a mobile billboard with a message about Nevada's worst-in-the-nation 12.1 percent unemployment rate to troll the town for the next 48 hours.

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