Debate Day Draws Near: Raising The Stakes, Lowering Expectations (The Note)

Evan Vucci/AP Photo

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone ) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter )


  • OBAMA'S TWO-MINUTE WARNING: After Mitt Romney released a straight-to-camera TV ad yesterday, ABC's Jake Tapper reports that President Obama speaks straight to camera in a new ad that runs two minutes long, far longer than the typical 30-second spots. In it, Obama says: "During the last weeks of this campaign, there'll be debates, speeches, more ads. But if I could sit down with you, in your living room or around the kitchen table, here's what I'd say: When I took office, we were losing nearly eight hundred thousand jobs a month, and were mired in Iraq. Today, I believe that as a nation we are moving forward again. But we have much more to do to get folks back to work and make the middle class secure again. Now Governor Romney believes that with even bigger tax cuts for the wealthy, and fewer regulations on Wall Street, all of us will prosper. In other words, he'd double down on the same trickle down policies that led to the crisis in the first place …" before laying out his campaign platform. The ad will air in New Hampshire, Virginia, Florida, Ohio, Iowa, Nevada, and Colorado. WATCH:
  • THE WORD FROM BOSTON: Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul responded this morning to the new Obama campaign ad: "Four years ago, Barack Obama called it 'unpatriotic' to run up debts our children will have to pay. Yet in the time it takes his latest ad to run, our national debt grows by at least another $5 million. With $16 trillion in debt, 23 million Americans struggling for work, and spending out of control, President Obama's record is clear: we can't afford another four years that look like the last four years."
  • SUPER PAC, UNION TEAM UP FOR ANTI-ROMNEY RADIO ADS: The American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME People) and the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action are joining forces to make the case to voters in Ohio and Virginia that Mitt Romney is wrong for middle class families. The groups will be running radio ads in those states, the first of which, according to AFSCME and Priorities USA "highlights Mitt Romney's use of tax loopholes to pay a lower rate than middle class families, and features Romney's unscripted feelings from a closed-door fundraiser, where Romney disclosed his disdain towards nearly 150 million hardworking Americans - the same group of hardworking Americans who would be devastated by his tax plan. According to independent analysis by the Tax Policy Center, the Romney plan would mean the average middle class family would have to pay an average $2,000 dollars more in order to pay for a new $250,000 tax cut for multi-millionaires like Romney." The radio ads are part of a $1.25 million anti-Romney push led by the two groups between now and Election Day. LISTEN:
  • TRY ABC'S 2012 ELECTION MATCH-O-MATIC: Before the first debate, answer the questions to choose your candidate. It's not always as obvious as it seems!
  • COUNTDOWN TO ELECTION DAY: There are 40 days to go until Nov. 6, 2012. Yesterday, ABC News moved the state of Ohio from "Toss Up" territory to "Lean Obama." This puts the ABC Electoral College estimate at 255 for Obama to 206 for Romney. Here's the ABC News' battleground state rankings:


Will Mitt Romney get the game changer he needs in next week's presidential debate?

Even as the Republican presidential nominee has been touting President Obama's debating chops ("The president is obviously a very eloquent, gifted speaker," Romney told Fox News this week. "He'll do just fine."), he's also been raising the stakes for his own performance.

In an interview with ABC's David Muir yesterday in Toledo, Ohio Romney pointed to the first debate - one week from last night - as a potential turning point in the race.

"We have a chance during the debate to make our message clear to the American people," the former Massachusetts governor told Muir, "and I'm absolutely convinced that when people see the two of us talk about our direction for America they're going to support me because I know what it takes to make the economy going again, and the president has proven he does not."

In the ABC News interview, Romney declined to predict whether he would "win" it, but said he planned to "describe very clearly what I will do to get America working again and the President will describe his own view, and I believe the American people are going to side with me."

Whatever happens on the debate stage next week, it will be hard to argue that either of the candidates will be unprepared. Romney has so far not scheduled any campaign events this weekend and campaign aides say that debate practice is on the agenda.

President Obama will head to Henderson, Nev., on Sunday for three days of debate prep behind closed doors, ABC News' Devin Dwyer reports. To date, Obama has attended a handful of two- to three-hour prep sessions at Democratic National Committee headquarters with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., who is standing in as Romney.

Both sides are playing the expectations game, with Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki this week, arguing that President Obama "will have less time than we anticipated" to prepare for the face-off. Republican National Committee spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski countered that "the idea a president who is known for his world class oratory, is a world-class debater who laid waste to Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and John McCain, will be unprepared debates is absurd."

Here's what's clear: Once the hour-and-a-half sparring session that will take place at the University of Denver next week is over, the expectations game won't matter one bit. It will be all about how each candidate performed in front of a television audience of millions.

There's no doubt that this is being seen as crucial moment. Teams of campaign aides from Obama headquarters in Chicago and from Romney headquarters in Boston are planning to be on hand in Colorado for the event.

BOTTOM LINE: As ABC News Political Director Amy Walter points out: At next week's debate, the pressure is on Romney to make something happen. The pressure is on Obama to make sure nothing happens.


The Note's virtual political roundtable:

ABC's RICK KLEIN: Closing time is early around here. We're more than a month out, but both candidates are on the air with messages that are geared toward the very end. President Obama is telling voters what he'd say if invited in their living rooms for a two-minute chunk of time, while Mitt Romney is looking to camera as well, with a tweaked message: "We can't afford another four years like the last four years." It's a reminder of the fact that battleground state voting is officially underway; early-voting in Iowa starts today, a few days after in-person absentee voting began in Virginia. And it suggests the campaign messaging is all but locked in. Good luck trying a new line of attack in this saturated environment.

ABC's AMY WALTER: Mitt Romney's interviews yesterday were absolutely fascinating and reveal a candidate who is almost wistful of the campaign he wished he could have run. (For example, he spoke to NBC News about his Massachusetts health care plan that insured "100% of children.) These are not the words of a confident candidate. They are the words of a candidate who is already trying to explain and justify his failure on the other side (see, for example, his comments to CBS News saying that the Obama campaign is engaging in "character assassination.")

MITT ROMNEY TALKS TO ABC'S DAVID MUIR: 'POLLS GO UP, POLLS GO DOWN.' ABC's David Muir interviewed Mitt Romney before an event in Toledo, Ohio on the same day that polls in Ohio and Florida showed him trailing the president. Romney told Muir: "Well I'm very pleased with some polls, less so with other polls, but frankly at this early stage, polls go up, polls go down. We have the chance during our debates to make our message clear to the American people, and I'm absolutely convinced when the people see the two of us talking about our direction for America, they're going to support me … I think as you look at the national polls, you see that I'm tied in the national polls, both Gallup and Rasmussen have the numbers at even."

ROMNEY: OBAMA ADS ARE DISHONEST. Responding to a question from Muir about his "47 percent" comment, Mitt Romney said: "State-by-state you've got some advertising going on from the Obama people, which expresses their views on my positions, which frankly I think are inaccurate and in some cases dishonest. The advantage I have is to go to the American people and describe how I'm going to get America working again. How some of the things being said about me are not accurate, and mine is a campaign about 100% of the people, not 99 and 1, not any other percent. It's about getting 100% of the people in this country to have a brighter future, better job prospects, and higher take-home pay."

ROMNEY ON THE DEBATES: NOT WORRIED. More from Romney, in his interview with David Muir: "Uh I don't worry about the opportunity to be on the air and to face the president - he has his views, I have mine. I'm going to let the American people make their choice and I think when they do, they're going to choose the guy who understands what it takes to get America working again and I do."


LISTEN UP, MITT: Advice For The Romney Campaign From Ohio Voters. ABC's Shushannah Walshe hears from Romney supporters in the key battleground state. WATCH:


with ABC's Chris Good ( @c_good)

MORE DEBATE EXPECTATIONS: HOW LOW CAN YOU GO? With the first presidential debate looming next Wednesday, ABC's Jake Tapper reports for "Good Morning America": The Obama campaign says that if you look at the last six times an incumbent faced a challenger, the challenger in five out of six times was judged to be the winner of that first debate, so they are trying to set expectations low. President Obama has done a couple practice sessions at the Democratic national headquarters with John Kerry playing the role of Mitt Romney, and then on Sunday he heads to a resort outside Las Vegas, where the president will have intensive debate preparations.

OBAMA'S DEFENSIVENESS: CAUSE FOR CONCERN? More from ABC's Jake Tapper on the upcoming debate: The first concern they have is the expectations game, but secondarily there is this concern: President Obama can show flashes of irritation - the "You're likable enough, Hillary" moment from the last campaign is one that resonates - so they are trying to prevent that from happening.

ROMNEY RELEASES ANOTHER COAL AD. The Romney campaign has released its third coal-focused TV ad since last week, ABC's Sunlen Miller reports. The ad uses footage of candidate Obama saying, in 2008, "If somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It's just that it'll bankrupt them." A narrator says: "President Obama is attacking Mitt Romney because Mitt Romney supports coal miners … Obama wages war on coal while we lose jobs to China, who's using more coal every day. Now your job is in danger." WATCH the ad here:

A DISPARATE ROUND OF INTERVIEWS FOR ROMNEY. ABC's Z. Byron Wolf and Sunlen Miller sum up Romney's round of network interviews: With ABC, Romney addressed polls that show him trailing President Obama, with NBC he promoted the Massachusetts health law that was a model for the national law he has pledged to repeal, and with CBS he accused the Obama administration of "character assassination."

ROMNEY: OBAMA IS COMMITTING 'CHARACTER ASSASSINATION.' In an interview with CBS, Romney was asked if he hasn't been aggressive enough in hitting President Obama. Romney: "This is a campaign, not about character assassination, even though that's what I think has come from the Obama camp by and large." CBS's Jan Crawford asked Romney about that allegation. Romney responded: "Oh yeah, sure, they try and completely misrepresent my point of view, along with why I'm in this race, but I think fundamentally the American people are interested in who can make their life better? Who can make people get better jobs and better incomes."

ROMNEY: MASS. HEALTH LAW SHOWS 'EMPATHY.' Romney touted his record as governor in another interview Wednesday, with NBC. "I think throughout this campaign as well, we talked about my record in Massachusetts, don't forget-I got everybody in my state insured," Romney told NBC's Ron Allen. "One hundred percent of the kids in our state had health insurance. I don't think there's anything that shows more empathy and care about the people of this country than that kind of record."

NOTED: OBAMA CAMPAIGN QUESTIONS ROMNEY'S EMPATHY. Obama Deputy Campaign Manager Stephanie Cutter offered this response to Romney's comment about the Massachusetts health law: "[W]hile Mitt Romney held up the Massachusetts health care law as evidence of his empathy for people, minutes later he promised to repeal Obamacare, which is modeled after his own law. It's not empathetic to deny affordable health coverage to tens of millions of Americans, allow insurance companies to discriminate against Americans with pre- existing conditions or charge women higher premiums than men because of a pregnancy. It's troubling that Mitt Romney thinks it is."

MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENTS TO ENDORSE ROMNEY. Mitt Romney will receive the endorsement of 42 Medal of Honor recipients on Thursday, ABC's Sunlen Miller reports. Mitt Romney said of the endorsers: "They are the best of us all, and their dedication to our freedoms and their fellow servicemen and women serves as a shining example to every American. I am deeply honored and grateful to have the support of so many of these brave men, but my deeper thanks is for their service to this nation." Medal of Honor recipient Leo Thorsness: "In Mitt Romney, I believe we have a leader who can address the problems we face, while restoring America to its place on the world stage. Governor Romney understands the needs of our servicemen and women, and he will ensure that those who have fought for us abroad will not have to fight for a good job and good healthcare when they come home. We need that sort of leadership in the White House."

WHITE HOUSE: LIBYA ASSAULT WAS 'TERRORIST ATTACK.' ABC's Mary Bruce reports: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney confirmed today that the president believes the deadly assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was a "terrorist attack," a term Obama has not yet used in his characterization of the violence. "It is our view as an administration, the president's view, that it was a terrorist attack," Carney told reporters. The administration, which is still investigating the attack that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens, initially suggested the assault was linked to broader protests fueled by an anti-Islam movie.

RYAN: OBAMA FOREIGN POLICY 'BLOWING UP IN OUR FACES.' ABC's John Parkinson reports from Fort Collins, Colo.: [Ryan] turned to international issues, telling his audience the president's foreign policy "is blowing up in our faces." "Look around the world," Ryan said. "It looks like Tehran in 1979, but in about a dozen capitals around the world. They are burning our flags at our embassies. They're climbing our walls at our embassies. They're taking down our flags and putting up the flags of the Muslim Brotherhood. They just killed four of our diplomats in Benghazi, and Iran is that much closer toward a nuclear weapon."

WSJ: THE LIBYA DEBACLE. The Wall Street Journal takes aim at the administration's evolving explanation in an editorial: "None of the initial explanations offered by the White House and State Department since the assault on the Benghazi consulate has held up. … Imagine the uproar if, barely a month before Election Day, the Bush Administration had responded to a terrorist strike-on Sept. 11 no less-in this fashion. Obfuscating about what happened. Refusing to acknowledge that clear security warnings were apparently ignored. Then trying to shoot the messengers who bring these inconvenient truths to light in order to talk about anything but a stunning and deadly attack on U.S. sovereign territory."

A DEFINITIVE TIMELINE OF LIBYA STATEMENTS. Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler tracks how the administration explained the Libya attack: "[T]he administration kept the focus on what was ultimately a red herring-anger in the Arab world over anti-Muslim video posted on You Tube. With key phrases and message discipline, the administration was able to conflate an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Egypt-which apparently was prompted by the video-with the deadly assault in Benghazi. Officials were also able to dismiss pointed questions by referring to an ongoing investigation."

FBI INVESTIGATES BENGHAZI ATTACK FROM AFAR. CNN reports: "More than two weeks after four Americans - including the U.S. ambassador to Libya - were killed in an attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, FBI agents have not yet been granted access to investigate in the eastern Libyan city, and the crime scene has not been secured, sources said. 'They've gotten as far as Tripoli now, but they've never gotten to Benghazi,' CNN National Security Analyst Fran Townsend said Wednesday, citing senior law enforcement officials. Last Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters that an FBI team had reached Libya earlier in the week."

PAUL RYAN: OBAMA'S POLICIES 'PROJECT WEAKNESS.' ABC's John Parkinson reports from Colorado Springs, Colo.: Paul Ryan sharpened his criticism of President Obama's leadership as commander-in-chief, telling this military-friendly crowd that the president's policies "project weakness abroad." Obama proposals to cut defense spending, Ryan said, would scale back missile defense and directly cost Colorado almost 18,000 jobs. "Of all the things that Mitt Romney and I differ, disagree with President Obama - we need a strong military!" Ryan said. "We believe in peace through strength. We believe that when America's military is strong, America is safer.

MADE IN AMERICA: AHMADINEJAD'S PLANE. From ABC's Devin Dwyer and Kirit Radia: At Joint Base Andrews this morning, reporters traveling to Ohio with President Obama spotted what is in all likelihood Iranian President Mahmoud Amadinejad's airplane sitting on the tarmac: an American-made Boeing 747.

ROMNEY: 'IF', NO, 'WHEN' I'M PRESIDENT. ABC's Sunlen Miller reports that Romney corrected himself during the last stop of his three-day Ohio bus tour: "Were we to reelect President Obama there is no question in my mind we'd face four more difficult years. If instead I - no, instead when I become president (cheers) we're going to get this economy growing again, we're going to do the things that ignite this economy."


-MOVE ON GOES TO JUSTICE DEPT. OVER ROMNEY CLAIMS. The liberal group announced this morning that they have found "substantial evidence that Mitt Romney may have committed a felony by lying on his financial disclosure forms justifies a criminal investigation - that's the conclusion of a legal analysis released today by Political Action. … submitted the 7-page legal analysis and a letter calling for an investigation to the U.S. Department of Justice. The analysis contends that there is good reason to believe GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney may be criminally liable for false statements he made in 2011 in his federal financial disclosure filing (form SF-278) - in apparent violation of the federal False Statements Act (18 U.S.C. §1001). Romney claimed in his disclosure filing that he departed from 'any' active role in Bain Capital in 1999, which would be politically convenient because it was before Bain Capital was most heavily involved in outsourcing jobs. However, the legal analysis released today, which includes a review of state law in Delaware, where Bain Capital was incorporated, concludes that existing evidence is "clearly inconsistent with [Romney's] flat disavowal of 'any' involvement in the 'operations of any Bain Capital entity in any way'" after 1999."

-BARNEY FRANK: MITT GETS WORSE. Highlighting Mitt Romney's views on gay-rights issues, the Democratic opposition-research super PAC American Bridge has released a "Mitt Gets Worse" video starring Rep. Barney Frank. In it, Frank says: "He has never been in favor of any legislation or executive order that would advance our rigthts. Zero. None. … What led me to compare Mitt Romney to governor George Wallace of Alabama was his willingness to demagogue for political purposes. … It would be a serious setback. He might very well reinstitute 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell.'" WATCH:


@kakukowski : Second-quarter GDP cut to 1.3 percent on drought …

@aterkel : Romney roundtable on manufacturing had owners, presidents. Campaign said no workers/middle managers were invited

@cFidd : RT @nprpolitics: Iowa Becomes First Swing State To Begin Early In-Person Voting

@CPHeinze : This morning's economic report shows why Obama stands to benefit more from early voting than Romney - reduces impact of future bad news.

@FixAaron : Old Romney video shows him talking about how Bain would "harvest" companies.


with ABC's Josh Haskell ( @HaskellBuzz)

-President Obama holds a campaign event at Farm Bureau Live in Virginia Beach, Va.

-Mitt Romney holds a Veterans for Romney event at the American Legion Post in Springfield, Va. and attends a fundraiser tonight in Washington, DC.

-Paul Ryan attends campaign fundraisers in Tennessee.

-Vice President Joe Biden is in Washington, DC with no public events.

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