Obama to be 'firm but respectful'

President Obama will be “firm but respectful” in his pivotal second debate Tuesday night against Republican Mitt Romney, his campaign spokeswoman said Monday.

Spokeswoman Jen Psaki would not get into the specifics about Obama's expected tone, but promised Obama would be “forceful” on Tuesday night.

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Obama is looking for a strong performance after the first debate, when he was criticized for giving a lackluster showing that had some observers wondering if he would have rather been anywhere but the debate stage.

The poor debate turned around momentum in the presidential race, with a number of national polls showing Romney with the lead.

Obama and his campaign team have acknowledged he could have done better at the first debate, and aides have promised the president will more aggressive.

“We know that the president is his own harshest critic and he knows that Mitt Romney had a better debate 10 days ago, 11 days ago, however many days it was,” Psaki said

At the same time, Psaki said: “People across this country aren’t voting on who is the better salesman in chief, they’re looking for who is going to better represent them in the White House.”

In the end, she said Obama’s campaign doesn’t think the election will come down to the debates.

“Coming out of it, we think that the race is still going to be won or lost based on who has a better policies and better plan for the middle class, who has the better ground game and better plans to encourage people and educate people to early vote and get them to the polls and we feel confident about where we are on both fronts,” she said.

Obama has retained an edge in many of the swing states that will decide the race, most critically in Ohio.

That edge has given the Obama campaign some confidence, and Psaki pointed out Monday that state polls continue to be stable. She also noted the president will travel to several swing states in the days after Tuesday’s debate.

“We always expected that the polls would tighten and some of them have and that’s why the morning after the debate… the president’s heading out to … Iowa, to Ohio on Wednesday, to New Hampshire on Thursday, because we’re going to compete for every last vote until the polls close,” she said.

But polls also suggest Romney has closed the gap in battlegrounds such as Virginia and Colorado, and one poll released late last week showed him well ahead in Florida.

The solid debate performance has energized Romney, his campaign and Republican voters, who are more enthused about his candidacy.

A Washington Post poll released Monday found the number of supporters who back Romney “very enthusiastically” doubled after the debate. Sixty-two percent of likely voters backing Romney now back him intensely, the poll fund. That’s double the number of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) supporters who intensely backed his candidacy in 2008.

Tuesday’s debate at Hofstra University on Long Island is the second of three Obama-Romney debates. The third is Monday, Oct. 22.

Tuesday’s debate will be held in a town-hall format in which questions from the audience will drive the discussion. In such a setting, it could be more difficult for the candidates to go on the attack, given a perceived need to highlight empathy with the likely voters doing the questioning.

It also emerged Monday that both campaigns are concerned that moderator and CNN journalist Candy Crowley will ask too many questions during the debate.

The two campaigns have reportedly written to the Commission on Presidential Debates questioning whether Crowley intends to take a more active role during the town-hall event than the campaigns agreed to, according to a report in Time.

Psaki would not discuss the negotiations, but said it would be expected that candidates would field questions from audience members at a town hall debate.

“I think what I’m saying is that I’m not going to get into the specifics of the negotiations,” 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, he’s happy to address those questions as well.”

Obama has been holed up in Williamsburg, Va. for the better part of two days in debate practice.

Along with debate prep, she said the president has been “enjoying the grounds” and “walking around, taking in the beautiful atmosphere we have here.”

“He’s calm and energized and just looking forward to getting to New York tomorrow,” she added.

This story was posted at 11:54 a.m. and updated at 12:55 p.m.