Team Obama raises debate expectations

The Obama campaign on Monday tried to raise expectations for Mitt Romney's performance in this fall's presidential debates, labeling them "make or break" for the Republican nominee. 

Jennifer Psaki, the traveling press secretary for Obama's reelection campaign, noted that the president had not participated in debates in four years, while Romney had been in about 20 in the past 12 months or so because of the Republican primary. For Romney, the debates represent a "make-or-break" moment, Psaki said.

"We know that Mitt Romney and his team have seemed to prepare more than any candidate in modern history," Psaki told reporters Monday. "They've made clear that performing well is a make-or-break piece for their campaign."

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Psaki said Obama is preparing for the debates by working on his concision. During his 2008 run, Obama often struggled at the formet, giving long, detailed answers to questions that could seem professorial and aloof. 

Obama senior campaign strategist David Axelrod said Obama is working on giving shorter answers.

"He's got to speak shorter, that's all," Axelrod said over the weekend. "He just hasn't had to do that for the last four years, so that's a part of the discipline of preparing for these debates."

Axelrod also said Obama has been studying Romney's policy positions and past statements.

"He's spent a lot of time reading material and most of it is familiarizing himself with what Gov. Romney said in this campaign," Axelrod said. "He's pretty conversant with his own record but he wasn't very conversant with Romney's." 

Romney is studying up as well. He took a break from campaigning during the Democratic National Convention to test his skills in mock debates against Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who was used as a stand-in for Obama. 

Obama and Romney's first debate, on Oct. 3 at the University of Denver in Colorado, will focus on domestic issues. 

The second debate will be held on Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., while the third and final match-up will be Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.