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Campaigns play debate expectations game

By the CNN Political Unit
updated 5:47 PM EDT, Fri September 28, 2012
Democrats say Romney's extensive debate experience in the primaries puts him at an advantage in the presidential debates.
Democrats say Romney's extensive debate experience in the primaries puts him at an advantage in the presidential debates.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Romney says he's looking forward to "conversation with the American people"
  • Both campaigns seek to lower expectations for presidential debate debuts
  • Both campaigns say they have the issues on their side
  • Romney: debates a good chance to see candidates unfiltered

(CNN) -- The Obama and Romney campaigns are seeking to manage -- and in some cases lower -- expectations for their candidate's performance in the first presidential debate.

CNN obtained a memo on Thursday circulated by Beth Myers, an adviser to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, that outlines several reasons why President Barack Obama may win the first of three scheduled encounters next Wednesday in Denver.

Obama, Myers wrote, "is a universally acclaimed public speaker and has substantial debate experience under his belt," referencing the Democrat's 2008 campaign against John McCain.

Myers also warned that Obama would likely go after Romney.

"Based on the campaign he's run so far, it's clear that President Obama will use his ample rhetorical gifts and debating experience to one end: attacking Mitt Romney," Myers wrote. "Since he won't -- and can't -- talk about his record, he'll talk about Mitt Romney."

Myers also points to polls that showed Obama won those debates by "double-digit" margins and recent polls that show 25% of voters expect him to do better than Romney in their head-to-head meetings.

First on CNN: Romney memo seeks to lower debate expectations

Obama advisers threw out the first pitch in the expectations game on Sunday, with Robert Gibbs saying that Romney is primed for success following a string of debates during the rigorous campaign for the Republican nomination.

"Mitt Romney, I think, has an advantage, because he's been through 20 of these debates in the primaries over the last year," Gibbs said on Fox News. "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."

Traveling press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday aboard Air Force One that Romney has had more debate preparation "than any candidate in modern history."

"They've made clear that his performing well is a make-or-break piece for their campaign," Psaki said in an attempt to raise the stakes for Romney.

Asked Friday about his extensive debate prep, Romney said, "I'm looking forward to the debates. I'll put it that way."

Romney said the face-to-face meetings will be a good opportunity for voters to see the candidates unfiltered.

"I think it will be a good chance for the president and for me to have a conversation with the American people about our respective views," Romney told reporters during a flight from Pennsylvania to Boston for a scheduled fundraiser, "and I think that will give people a chance to understand where we actually stand, as opposed to where our opposition thinks we stand, and then they'll able to make a more informed choice."

Both campaigns say they have the issues on their side.

Asked if he thought Romney was the underdog, Romney surrogate Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pennsylvania, said if his candidate could avoid a personality contest and talk about the issues, then his chances were better.

"The policies are ones where I hope that Governor Romney is able to point out the things that President Obama has said that, if the economy doesn't get better, if jobs don't get better, he doesn't deserve a second term," Murphy said on CNN's "Starting Point."

Delaware Gov. Jack Markell was asked on the same show whether polls showing high voter expectations for Obama in the debates could hurt the president

"Well, my guess is what people are really saying, they believe President Obama really understands their issues, their concerns. He's got a better plan for the future," said Markell, who also chairs the National Governor's Association.

CNN's Peter Hamby, Rachel Streitfeld and Ashley Killough contributed to this report

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