"If he doesn't," Axelrod wrote, "he will leave the debate no stronger than he arrives.
"Americans have no doubt that Mitt Romney can ably attack the President. He’s spent the past year and a half doing it. But that hasn’t moved the needle on what has been a remarkably stable, close and competitive race."
Along with the memo, the campaign released a new Web video mocking Romney for "crocodile tears," attacking him for a similar strategy of charging Obama with using false and misleading attacks.
The campaign highlighted three areas in particular where it aims to prove Romney is lying: on whether he would have "let Detroit go bankrupt," on banning abortions without exceptions, and over whether Romney can name a "single loophole" he would close for wealthy taxpayers in order to avoid raising taxes on the middle class.
The campaign over the past week has worked to downplay expectations for Obama in the debate, noting that the president has less time to prepare than Romney, and even joking during Thursday's press gaggle that "he could fall off the stage."
Axelrod listed reasons why the debate is slanted in Romney's favor in the memo:
[D]ebates — and particularly the first debate — generally favor challengers. Five out of the last six challengers were perceived to win the first debate against an incumbent president. Most profit from having debated throughout the primary season, as Gov. Romney will. And it is natural for a challenger to gain simply from standing on the stage, toe-to-toe with the incumbent. Finally, the challenger, unencumbered by the responsibilities of being the President, has more time to prepare — a benefit of which Gov. Romney has taken full advantage.
Axelrod also wrote that the campaign would attack Romney for looking back instead of "forward," which is the campaign's slogan this year.
Obama plans to speak at the debate "about his plans to move us forward," Axelrod wrote. But Romney "has suggested that he plans to accuse the President of distorting Governor Romney’s record and proposals. This would be disappointing for any American tuning in to learn more about how each candidate would lift the country, rather than to hear them tear each other down."