Obama out to seize momentum from Romney in debate

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (AP) – Republican White House
challenger Mitt Romney conferred with his debate practice partner while
President Barack Obama exercised before his final study review for
Tuesday's debate, both hoping it would help them pull ahead in the
razor-tight race.

“I feel fabulous,” Obama
told reporters on his way into a meeting with top aides after three days
of intensive “debate camp” at a Virginia golf resort. The pressure was
especially high on the Democratic incumbent after even he admitted he
lost the first debate two weeks ago.

Romney smiled broadly as he
exited his plane in New York, where his second chance to face off with
the president was scheduled at Long Island's Hofstra University. Ohio
Sen. Rob Portman, a constant companion in recent days as he played Obama
in practice sessions, crouched in front of Romney's seat for much of
the flight. They later joined aides in their hotel's auditorium for
final preparations.

The candidates will take
questions on domestic and foreign policy from an audience of about 80 of
the coveted uncommitted voters whom both campaigns are so furiously
courting with just three weeks left until Election Day. The town
hall-style format makes it especially tricky for Obama to strike the
right balance in coming on strong against Romney without turning off the
audience – and tens of millions of television viewers – by going too

The Campaign 2012
juggernaut has raced ahead nonetheless: Both sides have unfurled new
ads, hustled at the grassroots level to lock down every possible voter,
dispatched surrogates to rev up enthusiasm and kept the running mates
busy raising cash and campaigning in the most hotly contested states.

Romney political director
Rich Beeson laid down a marker that Romney would be victorious in one of
the most aggressively fought contests – Ohio. “To be clear, the
Romney-Ryan campaign will be victorious in the Buckeye State,” Beeson
said in a memo written with the campaign's Ohio director, Scott
Jennings, arguing that several factors are working in Romney's favor
there. No Republican has ever won the presidency without carrying Ohio,
where polls show Obama running strong.

Arizona Sen. John McCain,
the 2008 Republican presidential nominee and a top Romney supporter,
wouldn't go as far as Beeson and predict a GOP win in Ohio.

“I can draw a scenario
where Mitt Romney can win without Ohio, but it's a very, very difficult
path,” McCain said in an interview with The Associated Press while
campaigning in Ohio for Romney. “And so I think the eyes of the world
will be on Ohio and, from the polling that I see – and this is obviously
a very dynamic situation – we could be up late.”

With both candidates
preparing for the debate and Vice President Joe Biden attending former
Senate colleague Arlen Specter's funeral, Romney running mate Paul Ryan
was the only member of either ticket out campaigning. He was taking a
swing through Virginia. In an interview with Virginia's conservative
radio host John Fredericks, Ryan said supporters working to get out the
vote for the GOP ticket “have been just really doing the Lord's work all
throughout the state.”

He later campaigned in the
foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, arriving for a Lynchburg rally in
a pick-up truck with a large American flag flapping behind in the cab
as AC/DC's “Rock 'N Roll Train” blared.

Ryan said the election “is
about what kind of country we are going to be, what kind of people we
are going to be. That's what this is about.”

Romney picked up the
backing of former independent presidential candidate H. Ross Perot. “We
can't afford four more years in which debt mushrooms out of control, our
government grows and our military is weakened,” Perot wrote in an
editorial announcing his endorsement Tuesday in the Des Moines Register.

Obama's campaign turned to
former President Bill Clinton on Tuesday to make the case against what
it says is Romney's $5 trillion tax cut. Clinton appears in a Web video
for the campaign, picking apart Romney's tax plan piece by piece, saying
his approach “hasn't worked before and it won't work this time.”

The president's campaign
says Romney hid from his tax proposal during the first debate, and
pledged Obama would be more aggressive in calling out his rival's shifts
on that and other issues this time around. Clinton, who has been
praised by Democrats for explaining Obama's economic arguments more
clearly than the president himself, appeared to be laying the groundwork
in the video released hours before the second faceoff.

The president plans to cast
an in-person ballot in Chicago on Oct. 25 – making history as the first
incumbent to vote early. First lady Michelle Obama dropped her Illinois
absentee ballot in the mail Monday. The president later joked that he
appreciated her support. “Thank goodness!” he said Tuesday after his
morning workout.

Obama did not respond to a
question about a more serious matter developing. Secretary of State
Hillary Rodman Clinton said she takes responsibility for security at the
U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where four Americans were killed
last month. Obama wouldn't say Tuesday whether he agreed she was to

Romney pressed the White
House on the matter last week after Biden said in the vice presidential
debate that “we weren't told” about requests for extra security at the
consulate. But State Department officials, testifying before Congress
that day, said they were aware of those requests. Clinton backed up the
White House's assertion that the issue didn't rise to the president or
vice president's attention.

Obama's campaign, seeking
to improve some of the optics that reinforced his poor performance,
planned to send several elected Democratic officials to the “spin room”
to speak with reporters immediately after the debate.

The campaign only had a
handful of Obama advisers in the room after the first debate. Because
those same advisers also had to meet with the president after the event,
they showed up noticeably later than the Republican officials promoting

Their late arrival reinforced the notion of a campaign struggling to comprehend the president's lackluster performance.

Tuesday's debate audience
of uncommitted voters was selected by the Gallup Organization. Moderator
Candy Crowley of CNN will choose who gets to speak, after reviewing
proposed questions to avoid repeats.

The final debate of the campaign will be Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., focusing on foreign policy.


Pickler reported from
Washington. Associated Press writers Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio,
Nancy Benac in Washington and Julie Pace in Williamsburg, Va.,
contributed to this report.

2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not
be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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