Mitt Romney is spending the week of the Democratic National Convention ensconced in Brownsville, Vt., prepping for the three upcoming presidential debates.
The war games are being held at the home of Romney’s former lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey, with Sen. Rob PortmanRob PortmanPoll: Government not doing enough to fight drug abuse Koch network super-PAC launches ad buys in Wisconsin, Nevada The Trail 2016: One-on-one, do-or-die? MORE (R-Ohio) playing President Obama.
Portman told Fox News he expects a much tougher, more negative Obama when the first debate takes place on Oct. 3, and is promising to prepare Romney accordingly.
The president, Portman claims, “has decided that they don’t want to talk about their record, they don’t want to talk about what he has done as president. … Instead, they’re attacking Mitt Romney’s business record.”
Thus, you can expect Portman to spend the practice sessions taking a baseball bat to Romney’s business record — much like Democrats are preparing to do this week when they’ll, reportedly, trot out a series of former employees at companies that were managed by Bain to muddy Romney’s record.
So how might Romney handle the Bain attack at both the mock and real debates? Well, fortunately for him, he had quite a few test runs during the GOP primary and its 20 debates.
In January, a pro-Newt Gingrich super-PAC unveiled “King of Bain” — a blistering, nearly 30-minutedocumentary on Romney’s tenure at the firm.
When the topic inevitably came up at a GOP debate, Romney defended himself by invoking the immunizing cloak of free enterprise and embracing his success.
“I’m proud of being in the free enterprise system that creates jobs for other people. I’m not going to run from that,” he said to strong applause.
Portman and Obama will also certainly hammer Romney for releasing only two years of personal tax returns, and here again, it’s instructive to turn to a GOP primary debate for how Romney might handle the attack.
“I have earned the money that I have,” he told an audience at a GOP debate in Florida. “I didn’t inherit it. I take risks. I make investments. Those investments lead to jobs being created in America.”
Then, instead of equivocating and dodging, he linked the specific debate to the more philosophical, “What you’ve accomplished in your life shouldn’t be seen as a detriment, it should be seen as an asset to help America.”
The audience swooned; Romney’s argument sounded as much a defense of freedom as it was his own success. Look for him to reprise that message in the upcoming debates.
Further, during the primary-season debates, Romney showed just how quickly he could deliver a counterpunch on personal finances.
After Gingrich scornfully noted in a debate that the former Massachusetts governor owned shares of Fannie and Freddie Mac, Romney calmly explained the concept of blind trusts and threw this sharp follow-up at Gingrich.
“Have you checked your own investments?” he asked Gingrich. “You also have investments through mutual funds that also invest in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.”
And thus Gingrich (and another hit on Romney) had been neutralized in a quick turn of fortunes.
Look for Romney and Portman to discuss how they can create moments like that, swing defense to quick offense, and most importantly, isolate what curveballs Obama might have planned.
Hints of those potential curveballs might come from Democrats at their convention this week. Until now, they’ve released a cavernous kitchen sink of attacks, with only a few drawing blood. But at the convention, they’ll have the opportunity to spend several days floating and testing new attacks on Romney.
And you can bet Portman will be watching from that secluded Vermont hamlet, incorporating the very latest into the war games.