- The Washington Times - Monday, October 15, 2012

After Vice President Joseph R. Biden earned the label “Laughing Joe” after he chuckled, sighed and interrupted his way through his debate with Rep. Paul Ryan last week, Team Obama is stressing that the president plans to be respectful in his second verbal match-up against Mitt Romney on Tuesday night.

The second presidential debate at Hofstra University in New York will feature a town-hall format with questions from the audience, a group of undecided voters chosen by Gallup who will ask their own questions on both domestic and foreign policy.

“You should expect that he’s going to be firm but respectful in correcting the record and the times we expect Mitt Romney will hide from and distort his own policies,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Monday. “He’s energized and I expect he will also be making a passionate case.”

The town-hall format is a style with which Mr. Obama seemed quite comfortable in 2008, appearing calm and collected and coasting to an easy debate victory against Sen. John McCain, his GOP rival who was widely seen as grumpy.

But Mr. Romney’s rapid-fire responses 12 days ago made Mr. Obama appear to many as torpid and downright unprepared, and polls show that voters have lost confidence in the president in the days since the debate, with his standing slipping across-the-board and behind Mr. Romney in several crucial battleground states.

With the pressure on, Mr. Obama faces the tricky challenge of attacking Mr. Romney without appearing too negative. He as spent the last day and a half holed up at a resort in Williamsburg, Va., in intense debate preparation mode in an attempt to stop Mr. Romney’s momentum and regain lost ground.

The campaign is being extremely tight-lipped about just how Mr. Obama is preparing, emphasizing the positive in an attempt to change the narrative that Mr. Obama loathes debates and the homework they require.

When reporters asked him over the weekend, how the preparation was going, he said, “It’s going great!” That response was dramatically different from two weeks ago when he told a supporter that debate preparation was “a drag.”

While Ms. Psaki repeatedly refused to get into specifics about his practice sessions Monday, she said Mr. Obama is “calm and energized and looking forward to getting to New York tomorrow.”

As Ms. Psaki was talking to reporters Monday, Mr. Obama sent out a fundraising email to supporters declaring the race tied and pleading with voters to donate ahead of a critical Wednesday deadline to help them compete with “a big surge of negative ads” from the Romney camp in the final days leading up to Nov. 6.

“Listen, this race is tied,” Mr. Obama wrote in the email. “What we do over the next 22 days will determine not just the next four years, but what this country looks like for decades to come. That’s what’ I’ll be fighting for up on that stage tomorrow night — but I can’t do it alone.”

The campaign also has started expressing more confidence in the economy, releasing an ad in which business people say that the jobs climate is getting better.

“When you look at the president’s plan, I don’t think there can be any questions that we’re on the right course for today’s economy,” one supporter says in the ad.

Another supporters provides an even pithier endorsement: “Stick with this guy — he will move us forward.”

In releasing the ad, the Obama campaign cited statistics bolstering his argument that the economy is on the mend: “Businesses have added 5.2 million new private-sector jobs over the past 31 straight months of private-sector job growth … the unemployment rate is at its lowest level since January 2009.

But Mr. Romney and his surrogates point to different statistics showing weak growth, including an unemployment rate that remains at 7.8 percent and a national debt that exceeds $16 trillion.

“President Obama’s policies have made it harder for our economy to recover and have devastated the middle class,” said Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg. “This election will be a clear choice between two different visions for our country. With President Obama, we’ll have four more years like the last four. With Mitt Romney, we’ll have pro-growth policies that deliver a real recovery, create millions of good-paying jobs, and bring relief to the middle class.”

Unlike Mr. Obama, Mr. Romney wants to repeat his performance in Denver, and is preparing for the debate by working on body language and stylistic changes to maximize the more informal feel of a town-hall style format.

“What the governor has to do and what he will do is be exactly who he was at the last debate — be himself,” conservative commentator Bay Buchanan said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Both candidates have reportedly expressed concern about the format — and whether the debate moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, will abide by guidelines the candidates and the Commission on Presidential Debates agreed to earlier this month limiting her role.

The campaigns have told the Commission they are wary of remarks Ms. Crowley made in a recent interview saying she intends to intervene with follow-up questions and guide the discussion as she sees fit.

“I think it’s always best when these guys engage with each other, but that doesn’t mean I won’t engage with them if that gets us closer to what we need,” Ms. Crowley told the Huffington Post.

Ms. Psaki wouldn’t say Monday whether her campaign prefers that Ms. Crowley refrain from asking follow-up questions.

“I’m not going to get into the specifics of that,” she said. “But, obviously, this is a town hall, which means the questions will be coming from the American people in the audience. But if the questions come from other sources, [Mr. Obama is] happy to address those questions as well.”