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Obama to ‘Come Out Swinging’ in Second Debate With Romney

Barack Obama, Mitt Romney
Photos: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images, Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

President Barack Obama is likely to “come out swinging” when he debates Mitt Romney this week in an effort to curb his Republican challenger’s momentum about three weeks before the Nov. 6 election, Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio said today.

Surrogates for the candidates on the Sunday talk shows predicted a more aggressive Obama will show up for the second presidential debate in New York on Oct. 16.

“I think President Obama is going to come out swinging,” Portman, a Romney supporter, said on ABC’s “This Week” program. “I think he’s going to have to compensate for a poor first debate, and I think that’ll be consistent with what they’ve been doing this whole campaign.”

Romney welcomed fresh enthusiasm for his campaign at events in Ohio yesterday, as Obama hunkered down at a resort in Virginia to prepare for their next debate.

Crowds for the Republican presidential candidate have grown since his performance in the first debate, on Oct. 3. Nowhere is that surge of energy clearer than in Ohio, a swing state where several public opinion polls show Romney gaining ground.

Debate Practice

Obama arrived yesterday in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he will be spending the weekend practicing for the town hall-style debate on Oct. 16 in Hempstead, New York. The president doesn’t plan to hold any public campaign events until then, an indication of how seriously his campaign is taking the faceoff.

Obama’s performance in the first debate -- panned by Democrats and Republicans alike -- paired with slipping poll numbers has sparked criticism from inside his party about the management of his campaign.

Over the next few days, the president and his top advisers plan to spend much of their time at a golf resort along the James River in rehearsal sessions, with Democratic Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts playing the role of Romney.

Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod said on “Fox News Sunday” that Obama is going to challenge Romney for walking away from his own proposals such as how he’ll pay for tax cuts.

“I think he’s going to be aggressive in making the case for his view of where we should go as a country -- and a country that’s built upon a growing, thriving middle class, not this top-down theory that Governor Romney has,” Axelrod said.

Salesman Romney

He also hinted that the president might bring up Romney’s work at Bain Capital LLC, the Boston-based private equity firm Romney co-founded in 1984.

“We expect Governor Romney will have a great debate too,” Axelrod said. “He’s a great salesman. That’s what he did as a professional and he’s very, very good at it.”

Romney also spent several hours yesterday practicing for the debate with top aides, including Portman, who is playing Obama in the sessions, and was scheduled to do so again today after flying home to Bedford, Massachusetts, last night.

With about three weeks remaining until the election, the campaign has entered a phase where the electoral map has narrowed to as few as nine states -- Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Carolina, Nevada, Colorado and New Hampshire -- with two debates remaining between Obama and Romney.

Focus on Ohio

Last week, Romney’s efforts were focused on Ohio, a so-called swing state where his campaign spent four of the last five days campaigning. No Republican has won the White House without winning Ohio, which has voted for the victor in the last 12 presidential races.

“He can probably win the presidency without Ohio, but I wouldn’t want to take the risk,” Portman said on ABC today.

Ohio’s jobless rate was 7.2 percent in August, according to the most recent state figures available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, below the national rate of 7.8 percent in September. The state’s improvement in economic health ranks sixth in the U.S. from the first quarter of 2011 through the first quarter this year, based on the Bloomberg Economic Evaluation of States.

Obama’s campaign said today the president will travel to Athens, Ohio, and Mount Vernon, Iowa, for campaign events after the debate. Obama’s campaign is also dispatching one of their top surrogates -- former President Bill Clinton -- to hold a rally in Parma, Ohio, with rock star Bruce Springsteen two days after the debate. This is the first Obama event this cycle for the musician, who campaigned with Obama four years ago. He will also appear on Oct. 18 in Ames, Iowa.

Taking a mid-day break from debate preparation, Obama stopped at a Williamsburg campaign field office, delivered pizza to his volunteers and made a few calls to supporters.

At the campaign office, reporters asked how his debate practice sessions were going.

“It is going great,” the president responded.

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