Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Candidates prepare to take center stage

By Athena Jones, CNN
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon September 24, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Obama, Romney to face off in three debates next month
  • Debates mark last chance to reach large TV audience of undecided voters
  • Obama campaign trying to lower expectations ahead of October 3 debate
  • National polls show close race, Obama with a slight edge in some battleground states

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With just over a week to go before the first presidential debate, both campaigns are weighing what they can do to take advantage of the three head-to-head matchups in October that will help decide the race.

Republican pollster Whit Ayres said GOP nominee Mitt Romney must use the debates to "score points" on the economy, the No. 1 concern of voters.

"The most important thing that Mitt Romney can do is give people confidence that he knows how to fix this economy," Ayres told CNN's Candy Crowley on "State of the Union." "They don't believe (President Barack) Obama has or can, but they are not yet persuaded that Mitt Romney can either. That's the most important thing to come out of your debate."

While national polls like Gallup show Obama and Romney neck and neck, recent ones in Florida, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin -- key battleground states that will help determine the winner in November -- show the president pulling ahead, with much closer contests in Colorado and Nevada. That could make it harder for Romney to do what analysts say he must to win the White House -- carry all the states Sen. John McCain did in 2008, plus about half a dozen that Obama turned from red to blue.

Battleground polls seem to give Obama upper hand

President Barack Obama arrives at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Thursday, September 13. Obama returned to Washington after a two-day campaign trip with events in Nevada and Colorado. See more of CNN's best photography. President Barack Obama arrives at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Thursday, September 13. Obama returned to Washington after a two-day campaign trip with events in Nevada and Colorado. See more of CNN's best photography.
Week in Politics: September 14 - 21
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
>
>>
Week in Politics: September 14 - 21 Week in Politics: September 14 - 21
Appealing to the undecided voters
Senators debate state of 2012 race
Campaigns push to get voters registered
Who has the 2012 campaign momentum?

With the conventions over, the debates are the last opportunity for the two candidates to reach the kind of large television audiences that could help them win over the dwindling number of undecided voters and energize their bases.

On ABC's "This Week," conservative writer Ann Coulter said the debates would be important "not because Romney is such a fabulous orator, but to the contrary -- for the first time, Americans will be able to see Romney unfiltered. And I think it will make a big difference."

And South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said on "State of the Union" that the former Massachusetts governor was "in good shape" and the debates would help shift the focus from perceived gaffes and missteps made by Romney in recent weeks -- most notably his remarks calling 47% of the U.S. population "victims" who are dependent on the government -- to Obama's record.

Graham: It's about your bank account, not Romney's Swiss account

Former President Bill Clinton told CNN's Fareed Zakaria that Romney would have to explain the "47%" comments in the debates.

The challenge for the president is to convince doubters, some of whom may have been supporters in 2008, that his policies will succeed in turning the economy around.

"We've got an electorate that is disappointed in the president they elected in 2008, but not at all convinced that the Republican challenger offers a good alternative," USA Today Washington bureau chief Susan Page told Crowley.

Obama campaign senior adviser Robert Gibbs continued to try to lower expectations for the president on "Fox News Sunday."

"I think it's always a big moment when two candidates get to sit side by side and answer the same question," he said. "Mitt Romney I think has an advantage, because he's been through 20 of these debates in the primaries over the last year. He even bragged that he was declared the winner in 16 of those debates. So I think, in that sense, having been through this much more recently than President Obama, I think he starts with an advantage."

In other quarters, the discussion turned to whether the Romney campaign needed to make changes. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker survived a recall election with the help of a strong Republican ground game that the Obama campaign believes is benefiting Romney in that traditionally blue state. Walker said he wanted to see more passion from the GOP contender and suggested he needed to spend more time campaigning.

"I think you gotta get off the hills and you gotta get out and charge forward," Walker said on "Fox News Sunday." "Certainly, in part, this is a referendum on this president, there's no doubt about it. But I think for most Americans -- particularly in my state, where there's an awful lot of swing, independent voters -- they want to know more than what's wrong with this president. They want to know what's right and what's going to move this country forward. I think Mitt Romney's got this plan. I want to see fire in the belly."

Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus dismissed the handwringing among some Republicans about the state of the campaign and insisted Romney had a good week, despite an intense focus in the media on the "47%" comments, which were secretly recorded at a fund-raiser in Florida months ago.

Priebus on Romney: 'Not the best week'

"We had a good week last week, I think in retrospect, in that we were able to frame up the debate last week in the sense of, what future do we want, and do you want, out there for your kids and grandkids. And clearly, things are not going well in this country," Priebus said on "This Week."

Priebus' comments echoed ones Romney made in a "60 Minutes" interview set to air Sunday night, in which he said his campaign did not need a turnaround.

"Actually, we're tied in the polls. We're all within the margin of error," Romney told CBS's Scott Pelley, in excerpts released ahead of showtime. "We bounce around, week to week, day to day. There are some days we're up. There are some days we're down."

Obama campaign officials say it is not the national polls but the swing state polls that matter.

"We're either tied or in the lead in every battleground state 45 days out," campaign manager Jim Messina told reporters in Milwaukee on Saturday. "I think you will see a tightening in the national polls going forward. What I care way more about is Ohio, Colorado, Virginia, Wisconsin, etc. In those states, I feel our pathways to victory are there. There are two different campaigns, one in the battlegrounds and one everywhere else. That's why the national polls aren't relevant to this campaign."

Romney plans to spend part of the last full week before the October 3 debate on a bus tour in Ohio, while the president is scheduled to speak at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, before making campaign stops in Ohio and Virginia.

Romney rebuts conservative criticism of his campaign trajectory

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Get all the latest news at CNN's Election Center. There are race updates, a delegate counter and much more.
A black man is returning to the White House. Four years ago, it was a first, the breaking of a racial barrier. Tuesday night, it was history redux. And more.
The 2012 presidential election shattered spending records, further polarized a divided country and launched a thousand hashtags.
updated 1:41 PM EST, Thu November 8, 2012
Democratic and Republican congressional leaders continue to sharply disagree over the key issue of whether top tax rates should be raised to help resolve the looming crisis.
updated 2:24 PM EST, Wed November 7, 2012
In a historic turnaround, the ballot box is showing America's shifting attitudes about same-sex marriage.
Even though voters indicated to pollsters that their financial situation is the same or worse than it was four years ago, they put their trust in the president.
updated 4:19 AM EST, Thu November 8, 2012
The president faces a long and familiar set of challenges after riding a wave of support from moderates, women and minorities to victory.
updated 9:27 AM EST, Wed November 7, 2012
Republicans kept a lock on the U.S. House of Representatives, a crucial victory after the party failed to wrest away the presidency from Barack Obama and the Senate from the Democrats.
updated 7:34 PM EST, Wed November 7, 2012
Democrats will retain their control of the Senate after winning several closely contested races on Tuesday.
ADVERTISEMENT