Obama Advisers Predict Romney Debate Bounce

Obama campaign may be trying to set unrealistic expectations for GOP challenger

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President Obama's senior political strategists, hoping to shape expectations for the fall campaign, are predicting that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney will enjoy a surge of positive media attention and a boost in the opinion polls after the first presidential debate.

A top Obama adviser, interviewed at the president's re-election headquarters in Chicago, said this is the normal pattern. A challenger "benefits from going toe to toe" with the incumbent, and this elevates the challenger's stature, at least temporarily, the adviser noted.

Actually, there is considerable truth to this theory. The best example is probably Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kennedy's famous nationally televised debate with Vice President Richard Nixon in September 1960, the first and most important of their four encounters that year. Kennedy didn't have the breadth of Nixon's experience, but he came across, at a minimum, as Nixon's equal in the televised encounter. Most TV watchers thought Kennedy was the victor, although those who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon had won. Kennedy went on to narrowly win the general election.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

Obama strategists argue, however, that any uptick for Romney will be temporary and that Obama will win a second term. Their speculation about how the debate will play out seems designed in part to raise expectations to unrealistic levels for Romney and intensify the pressure on him to perform well.

Sen. John Kerry, a Democrat from Massachusetts, has been recruited by the Obama campaign to play Romney in debate preparations.

Three presidential debates are scheduled in October.

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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," and is the author of "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He can be reached at kwalsh@usnews.com and on Facebook and Twitter.