Will President Obama be the underdog in Wednesday night's debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney?
It may seem unlikely, given Obama's reputation for having excellent communication skills, but that's the perception that Obama's advisers—and the president himself—are peddling. Their goal is to lower expectations for his performance and at the same time raise expectations for Romney.
"Governor Romney, he's a good debater," Obama told a rally in Las Vegas Sunday night. "I'm just okay."
Meanwhile, Romney surrogates are taking a more upbeat approach. They are hoping to create momentum and boost morale among the GOP candidate's supporters by predicting that Romney will win outright.
"Come Thursday morning, the entire narrative of this race is going to change," Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey told NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the Republican vice-presidential candidate, told Fox News that while Romney doesn't need a breakthrough in the debate in order to win the election, he would present voters with a "very clear choice" between Obama's failed policies and a conservative vision for the future. Ryan predicted that Romney would capture the presidency in November.
But Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the president is looking to connect with voters who may be tuning in to the election for the first time.
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"He wants to speak directly to the families, the people who are on their couches at home, having snacks, drinking a beer, drinking soda, whatever it is, and tuning in for the first time," she says.
Psaki cited Christie's remarks and told reporters, "Mitt Romney and his team have been clear [that] what they need and what they expect from the debates is a game-changing performance."
Psaki acknowledged that Obama sometimes gives lengthy answers to questions and doesn't like to deliver "zingers" against his opponents, which may make him seem overly cerebral and preoccupied with policy details.
"It is something he is well aware [of], and his team has pointed out to him that he needs to work on tightening and shortening his answers," Psaki said. "The team prepping him has [been] watching many debates that Mitt Romney has done where he's been very disciplined with sharp, tight answers."
After Wednesday's debate in Denver, there will be debates October 16 in Hempstead, New York and October 22 in Boca Raton, Florida.
Psaki added that Obama has not had the time that his aides had anticipated to prepare for the debates because he must fulfill his official duties and undertake a "very active campaign schedule" of personal appearances.
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Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog, "Ken Walsh's Washington," on usnews.com, and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Twitter.