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President Obama hits Nevada for debate practice

September 30, 2012|By Kathleen Hennessey
  • President Obama arrives at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, where he plans to practice for the Denver presidential debate with Mitt Romney.
President Obama arrives at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas,… (Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty…)

HENDERSON, Nev. -- President Obama landed in southern Nevada on Sunday, where after a Sunday night rally he’ll hunker down to prepare for his first debate against GOP rival Mitt Romney.

Obama will be cramming for the Wednesday debate at Lake Las Vegas, a resort community in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson. Aides said he’ll keep a low profile while working on his somewhat rusty skills with a full team of aides and advisors.

As the president settled into debate camp, his aides worked to lessen expectations for the session, to be held in Denver. For days, each campaign has been puffing up its opponent's debate talent and downplaying its candidate’s skills, all in an attempt to set a low bar.

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Obama’s campaign on Sunday pounced quickly on the reports that Romney was looking to turn in a performance heavy with zingers. And, alluding to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s comment Sunday that Romney would try to “reset” the campaign during the first debate, Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the president wasn’t looking to showy one-liners but had more modest goals of continuing the conversations he’s been having with voters.

"I will say the president and Mitt Romney clearly look at the debates as a very different opportunity,” Psaki said. “This will be a very large audience. He wants to speak directly to the families of 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. That's who he is speaking directly to.”

Psaki noted that the president hasn’t gotten in as much preparation time as he would have liked, thanks to the events in the Middle East and his rigorous campaign schedule. She also acknowledged the president’s struggle for brevity: A former law professor, the president often sounds like one. As a sitting president who hasn’t had to share the stage for four years, he’s had to work on watching the clock.

“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 told reporters on the flight from Washington to Las Vegas. “He understands what the format of the debate is and, as I mentioned before, the team prepping him has watched many debates that Mitt Romney has done where he’s been very disciplined with sharp, tight answers.”

As he prepares over the next few days, Obama will be surrounded by a full team of top policy and communication advisors, including chief of staff Jack Lew, economic advisor Gene Sperling, political advisor David Plouffe, campaign advisor David Axelrod and strategist Anita Dunn. Sen. John Kerry, (D-Mass.) will be playing the part of Romney during mock debates.

PHOTOS: Obama on the campaign trail

But the president’s retreat won’t all be hitting the books. He is expected to pop into some local businesses -- ensuring that his visit will stay on the local news in the battleground state.

Obama put his debate camp in important territory for this campaign, the economically battered and politically shifting suburbs outside of Las Vegas. The area took a sharp turn toward Democrats in 2008 but moved back to Republicans in 2010. It is a prime target for the Obama campaign’s attempt to persuade middle-class voters that the president’s economic policies are worth giving him another four years. 

Obama also plans to work in some base-oriented politicking into his trip. The campaign rally Sunday night at Las Vegas high school was to use a megastar Mexican rock band, Mana, as a draw for Latino voters. 

The Romney campaign doesn't plan to let the events go unanswered: Ann Romney is scheduled to rally in Henderson on Monday.

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kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

Twitter: @khennessey

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