Mitt Romney Seeks To Seize The Debate (The Note)

Evan Vucci/AP Photo

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


  • VOTERS PREDICT AN OBAMA WIN ON ELECTION DAY: A new ABC News-Washington Post poll out this morning shows that registered voters by a 63 to 31 percent margin expect President Obama to win re-election on Nov. 6. According to ABC News pollster Gary Langer, that is Obama's "widest advantage in expectations in ABC News-Washington Post polls to date. A year ago, in sharp contrast, Americans by an 18-point margin thought he'd lose." In addition the poll finds that "ratings of the economy, while very negative, have grown less intensely so since late August (39 percent say it's in poor shape, down from 45 percent). Obama's 47 percent approval rating for handling the economy, while still underwater, is numerically its highest in more than two years. And views that the nation is headed seriously off on the wrong track have eased by 9 percentage points to the fewest since January 2011."
  • AND A WIN ON WEDNESDAY: "Potential voters by a 56-29 percent margin also expect Obama to win the debates beginning Wednesday night in Denver - a result that ratchets up the pressure on the president to perform, leaving Romney, whatever his difficulties, greater opportunity to exceed expectations."
  • DEBATE EXPECTATIONS: MONDAY MORNING EDITION. As the first presidential debate looms potential voters expect Obama to win. ABC's David Muir reported for "Good Morning America" on the top line numbers from the poll, plus the latest on each candidate's debate preparations. WATCH:
  • SCHWARZENEGGER NOT SURE WHO HE'LL VOTE FOR: In an exclusive interview on ABC's Good Morning America the former Republican governor of California told George Stephanopoulos he hasn't committed to voting for the GOP's nominee, Mitt Romney yet. "I always wait 'till the last minute" when deciding who to vote for, Schwarzenegger told Stephanopoulos. When pressed on whether there was a chance he could still vote for Obama, the Schwarzenegger responded "I'm open-minded." WATCH:
  • 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 36 days to go until Nov. 6, 2012. Here are the ABC News battleground state rankings:


Evidently, Chris Christie didn't get the memo.

Or did he?

The New Jersey governor appeared to take a 180-degree detour from Romney campaign talking points on Sunday, ratcheting up - rather than lowering - expectations for Wednesday night's debate.

"Every time Mitt Romney has been confronted in this campaign with one of these moments, he has come through in the debate and performing extraordinarily well, laying out his vision very clearly, and also contrasting himself and his vision with whoever his opponent was at that time," Christie told Stephanopoulos. "I have absolute confidence that, when we get to Thursday morning, George, all you're going to be shaking your head, saying it's a brand-new race with 33 days to go."

It was a departure from the tone set yesterday by Romney's own running mate, Paul Ryan, who previewed the face-to-face meeting between Romney and Obama in an interview on Fox News Sunday.

"President Obama is a very - he's a very gifted speaker," Ryan said. "The man's been on the national stage for many years, 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."

But, as it turns out, Christie was just following the leader.

In a series of interviews over the last few weeks - some of the toughest for the GOP candidate - Romney, himself, has been pointing to the first presidential debate as a high-stakes event that could be a potential turning point for him.

"We have a chance during the debate to make our message clear to the American people," Romney told ABC's David Muir in Ohio last week, "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."

And in a mid-September interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Romney was asked whether the trifecta of October debates would be a "make or break moment" in the race.

"It may well be a decisive point in the in the campaign to have three debates and also the vice presidential debate," Romney said. "You know, you don't know - sometimes there's something big that happens and they become deciding."

As ABC News Political Director Amy Walter points out, the fact is Romney and his surrogates really don't have to worry about downplaying expectations for the debates. Voters already see him as the underdog.

Just 29 percent of registered voters in a today's ABC News-Washington Post poll think the GOP challenger will win the debates compared to 56 percent who say Obama will prevail. (Even a quarter of Republicans think that Obama will win them.)

What is clear is that voters will be tuning in. Republicans are just as committed to following the debates as their Democratic counterparts. 53 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of Republicans say they are very interested in the upcoming contests.


The Note's virtual political roundtable:

ABC's RICK KLEIN: This is a race that neither man will win, so much as the other candidate will lose. Mitt Romney endured the roughest stretch of any candidate in this race, and is still in a statistical tie nationally with President Obama, down 49-47 among likely voters in the new ABC News/Washington Post poll. Yes, huge margins expect Obama to win both the debates and the entire election. But that's hardly insurmountable, given the fact that the debates actually have to occur now. The numbers again show two candidates with tremendous disadvantages: Obama held down by lingering disappointment over his handling of the economy, and Romney held back by voters who just don't like him - or trust his policies enough to choose him over the president.

ABC's AMY WALTER: The Romney path to victory in both the debates and the campaign runs through the economy. Romney hasn't convinced Americans he understands their lives. A majority of voters say Obama better understands the economic problems of people like them. And just 31 percent of voters think Romney will do more to favor the middle class over the wealthy. The question now is if whether Romney needs to convince Americans he's compassionate or if he can win by convincing voters that he is simply more competent.

Voters remain pessimistic about the state of the economy and Obama's handling of it. Seventy-eight percent of voters say they are worried about the direction of the economy and a majority - 53 percent - disapprove of the way the President is handling the nation's economy. The two candidates are tied (47 percent) on the question of who will do a better job on the economy, though independents give Romney a six point lead on that question. Moreover, just 47 percent think that the economy will get back on track if Obama is re-elected while a slim majority (51 percent) think a Romney presidency will get economy back up and running. To win, Romney has to do more than just tie the president on this issue.

In the end, however, it is difficult to detach the message from the messenger. If voters don't trust the messenger, they aren't going to trust anything he says. This is why Romney's challenge on Wednesday isn't to try to convince them that he's "one of them" - that looks like an insurmountable challenge at this point. But, he does have to convince them he can do a better job for them. And, that requires a focus less on Obama's shortcomings and more on his own specific plans for fixing the nation's economy and broken political system.

OBAMA TEAM STUDIES ROMNEY DEBATE TAPES. ABC's Devin Dwyer reports from Las Vegas, President Obama convened the final debate camp of his political career here on Sunday, huddling with top advisers at a posh lakeside resort 20 miles east of the Strip for a three-day crash course on Republican rival Mitt Romney. Aides said a "debate prep team" had been pouring over hours of old videotape of Romney and other past Republican and Democratic candidates ahead of the meetings to clean strategic insights to pass on to Obama, who was last on a debate stage on Oct. 15, 2008. He has never sparred with Romney in person.

ROMNEY HEADS TO COLORADO: On Sunday, Mitt Romney went to church before doing at least three hours of debate prep, and then dropping by his campaign headquarters, ABC's Emily Friedman notes. Romney has one public event today - an evening rally in Denver, Colorado. Before boarding his flight to Colorado, Romney will do more debate prep in Massachusetts. The day after the debate, on Thursday, Romney will hold a rally in Virginia with Paul Ryan and country music star Trace Adkins.

"THIS WEEK" REWIND: CHRIS CHRISTIE: 'STOP LYING MR. PRESIDENT.' Appearing back-to-back on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fired shots at the Obama campaign while White House senior advisor David Plouffe fired back. The two men traded jabs about Romney's economic plan, specifically arguing about an ad being run by the Obama campaign accusing the GOP nominee of wanting to cut taxes for the wealthy. Christie accused the Obama campaign of lying after being shown the ad. "Stop lying, Mr. President…Governor Romney is not talking about more tax cuts for the wealthy. In fact, what he said is that the wealthy will pay just as much under a Romney administration as they pay today," Christie told George.

Plouffe's response: "Strong words. They're not true. Listen, analysts have looked at this. Someone who makes over $3 million a year would get over a $250,000 tax cut if Governor Romney's plan were to be enacted. And let's just step back. It's a $5 trillion tax cut, $2 trillion in defense spending, by the way, that our Pentagon and our military leadership says we don't need, another $1 trillion to extend all the Bush tax cuts. That's $8 trillion," Plouffe told George.


IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: THE POWERHOUSE ROUNDTABLE: Appearing on "This Week's" roundtable: former Mississippi Governor and RNC committee chair Haley Barbour, former DNC chairman Howard Dean, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, ABC News's political analyst Matt Dowd, and Politico Senior Political Reporter Maggie Haberman. WATCH:


with Elizabeth Hartfield ( @LizHartfield)

POLITICAL PUNCH: HE BUILT THAT. In the latest episode of his ABC/Yahoo! Power Players series "Political Punch" ABC's Jake Tapper interviewed Hugh Atkin, the man behind the "MC Bama" and "Real Mitt Romney" videos. This election season, Atkin's video, "Will The Real Mitt Romney Please Stand Up?" has 4.5 million views so far. The video takes Romney's words and drops them into Eminem's 'The Real Slim Shady' rap. His latest send up, 'U Didn't Build That by MC 'Bama,' uses mostly the president's words and phrases and drops them into MC Hammer's 1990s hit. Atkins is an American political junkie who happens to be a lawyer living in Sydney, Australia. "I've grown up watching 'The West Wing' and podcasting the Sunday morning shows, so I was always really interested in U.S. politics, and it just sort of rolled on from there," said Atkin. WATCH:

ROMNEY'S TAKE: A NEW COURSE FOR THE MIDDLE EAST: In an Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal, Mitt Romney calls for a restoration of what he refers to as "the three sinews of American influence"- economic strength, military strength and strength of values- in an op-ed piece in Monday's Wall Street Journal. "If the Middle East descends into chaos, if Iran moves toward nuclear breakout, or if Israel's security is compromised, America could be pulled into the maelstrom" Romney writes. "We still have time to address these threats, but it will require a new strategy toward the Middle East."

57 PREVIOUSLY UNDISCOVERED FAST AND FURIOUS GUNS USED IN MEXICAN CRIMES. Univision's Gerardo Reyes and Santiago Wills report: Fifty seven previously unidentified firearms linked to Operation Fast and Furious were recovered in sites associated with murders, kidnappings, and at least two gruesome massacres. Univision News obtained the list of Fast and Furious weapons and a list containing almost 60,000 recovered firearms compiled by Mexico's Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional (SEDENA). A cross-reference of the serial numbers of the guns resulted in 96 full matches (several partial matches were discarded). The 96 firearms linked to Operation Fast and Furious all turned up at crime scenes in Mexico from 2009 to 2010.

NOTED: THE RESPONSE FROM THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT. ABC's Jake Tapper reports, a DOJ official noted to ABC News that the Attorney General "testified several times about the tragic consequences of this flawed investigation" and that he "put a stop to these flawed field tactics that began many years ago (2006) and instituted new leadership at ATF as well as key reforms that require stronger oversight of investigations."

AHEAD OF DEBATE, PAUL RYAN TAKES ON JOE BIDEN. ABC's Shushannah Walshe reports from Ohio, less than two weeks before Paul Ryan and Joe Biden face off on the debate stage, Paul Ryan took on his counterpart on the issues of Social Security and Medicare. The GOP vice presidential nominee almost always saves his rhetorical fire for the top of the Democratic ticket but Saturday he aimed to rebut a claim the vice president made on the campaign trail in Florida Friday. "Just down in Florida yesterday Vice President Biden was making up all new falsehoods about Social Security and taxes," Ryan said at the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance's annual banquet, an event for hunters and fishermen Saturday. "They're trying to scare people for political gain."

MORE FROM RYAN: ONE DEBATE ISN'T GOING TO 'MAKE OR BREAK' THE CAMPAIGN. Ryan tried to tamp down expectations of his running mate saying he doesn't "think one event is going to make or break this campaign," ABC's Shushannah Walshe notes. "We're running against an incumbent president," Ryan told Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace when asked about conservatives saying Romney needs a "clear victory" at Wednesday's debate. "We're running against an incumbent president with incredible resources. But more importantly, I don't think one event is going to make or break this campaign." The GOP vice presidential nominee said "what matters in this particular debate and all the debates" is that Romney says what their ticket is "offering to get us back on track."

OBAMA SAYS HE WANTS 'SERIOUS DISCUSSION' WITH ROMNEY AT FIRST DEBATE. ABC's Devin Dwyer reports, with a brilliant full moon rising over the horizon on Sunday, President Obama told thousands of supporters gathered here for an outdoor rally that he's "looking forward" to facing off with Republican rival Mitt Romney on a debate stage Wednesday night in Denver. "You may have heard that in a few days my opponent in this election and I are going to have a debate. I'm looking forward to it," Obama said, making his first public comments on the highly anticipated showdown…The president suggested he planned to use the televised forum as an opportunity to engage his challenger on issues of substance. "What I'm most concerned about is having a serious discussion about what we need to do to keep the country growing and restore security for hard working Americans," he said.

WHITE HOUSE HACK ATTACK. The Washington Free Beacon's Bill Gertz reports: "Hackers linked to China's government broke into one of the U.S. government's most sensitive computer networks, breaching a system used by the White House Military Office for nuclear commands, according to defense and intelligence officials familiar with the incident. One official said the cyber breach was one of Beijing's most brazen cyber attacks against the United States and highlights a failure of the Obama administration to press China on its persistent cyber attacks. Disclosure of the cyber attack also comes amid heightened tensions in Asia, as the Pentagon moved two U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups and Marine amphibious units near waters by Japan's Senkaku islands. China and Japan-the United States' closest ally in Asia and a defense treaty partner-are locked in a heated maritime dispute over the Senkakus, which China claims as its territory."

WHAT'S THE DEAL WITH ALL THE COAL? ABC's Amy Bingham reports: Coal miners may make up less than half of one percent of the American electorate, but those blue collar workers' votes could pack a punch far beyond what their numbers suggest. The majority of America's coal production is clustered in a handful of states, three of which happen to be some of the most fiercely contested battleground states in 2012: Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia. Over the past two weeks Romney has launched three coal-themed ads that attack President Obama for "waging a war on coal" and featuring coal miners criticizing Obama for "attacking my livelihood" with regulations.

WILL OCTOBER BRING A POLITICAL SURPRISE? Imagine the impact on the polls if just days before Election Day, negations between the president and Iran dramatically broke down, intensifying an already volatile situation and fueling rumors that his Republican challenger cut a deal with a hostile enemy power to influence the election. Would you be surprised? ABC's Russell Goldman writes that the drama of a potential October surprise comes as much with the ticking of the clock toward Election Day as it does with the shrinking of the electoral map. A tight race like this year's, where the candidates are separated by a few points in battleground states, increases the likelihood that an unexpected event can shape the polls.

DEMOCRATS TARGET OHIO BALLOT RULE. Bloomberg's Margaret Cronin Fisk and Tom Schoenberg report: "Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine's bid to preserve a law disqualifying provisional election ballots filed in the wrong precinct comes before a federal appeals court next week in the so-called battleground state. The 2006 measure is one of two voter regulations being litigated in the court. Similar laws were enacted by Republican- dominated legislatures across the country after the 2008 election - laws aimed in part at fighting voter fraud, proponents argued. Opponents contend they are a thinly veiled effort to limit votes for Democratic candidates. With 38 days left before the presidential election, time is running out for judges to resolve voter access suits between supporters of President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney."

POLITICAL ADS FLOOD 'DANCING WITH THE STARS.' The New York Times' Jeremy Peters reports: "Republicans and Democrats seem to agree that their chances improve markedly if they can win over one important constituency: the audience of 'Dancing With the Stars.' The ABC show is the hottest ticket around this year for political strategists who buy commercial time. Last week, when the show's 15th season began with the elimination of Pamela Anderson from a cast of "all stars," the list of political sponsors included nearly every major player in the presidential campaign. According to data from Kantar Media, President Obama and Mitt Romney ran advertisements during the show, as did two Republican "super PACs," Restore Our Future and American Crossroads. Planned Parenthood also advertised.

ANN ROMNEY TO HOST HER FIRST COLORADO RALLY ON TUESDAY. The Denver Post's Chuck Plunkett reports: "On the heels of a scheduled campaign visit by her husband, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Ann Romney plans to stump in Littleton on Tuesday… Ann Romney's visit is to follow her husband's rally Monday night in Denver and occurs on the eve of first presidential debate at the University of Denver on Wednesday. Mitt Romney is scheduled to spend the day in Denver Tuesday preparing for the debate."


-COUNTER-PROGRAMMING: The GOP is launching a new website today called which recounts what the Republican National Committee says are President Obama's failed debate promises: "During the 2008 presidential debates, then-Senator Barack Obama promised the American people to solve the nation's problems, unite the country, and take us toward a better future. These were not vague promises. He outlined a number of actions and policy positions he would take, and he vowed specific, tangible results. … Despite his lofty rhetoric, the president has not met the very standards he set for himself. And America's still waiting for hope and change."

Meanwhile, in key battleground states, the Obama campaign is deploying Massachusetts officials who served with Mitt Romney when he was governor. According to Team Obama, these former officials are in "a unique position to tell voters across the country about Romney's record of failed leadership and failed policies in Massachusetts, which included slashing funding for education and job training while raising taxes and fees on middle class families and small businesses. The decisions Romney made in Massachusetts caused the state to fall behind badly: ranking 47th out of 50 in job creation and leading the nation in debt per-capita."

-PLANNED PARENTHOOD PLANS PRE-DEBATE RALLY. Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Planned Parenthood Votes Colorado will co-host a rally in Denver on Tuesday ahead of the first presidential debate to, according to a press release from the groups, "educate voters about the stark differences between President Obama and Mitt Romney on the issues women care about, including women's health, birth control, and preventive health and cancer screenings. … Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards will be joined at the rally by Senator Michael Bennet, Representative Diana DeGette, and others to educate and mobilize women in Colorado and across the country to get involved in the election and have their voices heard."


@DLeonhardt : How a June bombing led to US overconfidence in Libyan security forces, from a joint DC-Benghazi NYT team: …

@seanspicer : Wash Post Fact Check: Obama's claim that the Bush tax cuts led to the economic crisis

@woodhouseb : ICYMI: New DNC Video: Mitt Romney's Great Expectations:

@BettinaInclan : RT @zacmoffatt: Over 84k volunteers have knocked on 15x more doors and made 5x more phone calls than this time in '08 #RomneyRyan2012

@PaulBegala : Another very smart piece from @jmartpolitico. The Myth of the Media-Pollster Left-Wing Conspiracy: …

@SalenaZitoTrib : Bill Clinton to rally in Beaver PA, Beaver County did not support Obama in 08 he'll be there to help Critz beef up margins outside Johnstown


with ABC's Josh Haskell ( @HaskellBuzz)

-President Obama will spend the day in Henderson, Nevada preparing for Wednesday night's presidential debate. He has no campaign events scheduled.

-Mitt Romney heads to Denver, Colorado for an evening campaign rally at Wings Over The Rockies Air and Space Museum. Ann Romney campaigns for her husband in Henderson, Nevada holding a rally and a private fundraiser at the home of Sheldon Adelson.

-Vice President Biden is in Washington DC for an event at the Pentagon.

-Paul Ryan is on the trail in Dubuque, Iowa for an evening rally at Loras College.

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