Romney and Obama build each other up ahead of first debate

Both Mitt Romney and President Obama’s campaigns have worked to set debate expectations this week — each trying to portray the other as having the advantage headed into Wednesday’s showdown.

"President Obama is a universally-acclaimed public speaker and has substantial debate experience under his belt," Romney's campaign adviser Beth Myers wrote in a memo distributed to surrogates on Thursday. "This will be the eighth one-on-one presidential debate of his political career. For Mitt Romney, it will be his first.”

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But Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod wrote in a memo released Friday that first debates "generally favor challengers."

"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 wrote.

The memos follow a week of both sides fighting the other to be considered the underdog heading into the Oct. 3 event in Denver.

The Obama campaign has referred to everything from historical precedent to Obama's full schedule.

And on Thursday, Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki lowered the expectations even more for the president, telling reporters "he could fall off the stage."

Team Romney, meanwhile, has pushed the president’s famous oratorical skills.

"Voters already believe — by a 25-point margin — that President Obama is likely to do a better job in these debates," Romney's campaign argued in the Myers memo. That number comes from a CNN/ORC International poll released earlier this month.

Myers, in her memo, also credits Obama with "natural gifts and extensive seasoning under the bright lights of the debate stage."

The Romney adviser wrote that Obama "comfortably" defeated Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and then-Sen. Hilary Clinton (D-N.Y.) in 2008.

Axelrod, meanwhile, argued that Romney has debated more recently, coming out of the primary season.

Romney has been preparing since early this month, practicing with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) standing in for Obama. Portman, speaking in interviews, has also played up Obama's debate chops.

Obama, on the other hand, has spent some time practicing with Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) role-playing as Romney.

The first of three presidential debates, hosted by the University of Denver next week, will focus on domestic issues and especially the economy, the topic voters have consistently rated as the one most likely to influence their vote. While most national polls show a tight race with Obama leading Romney, voters are still split between the two candidates on who would best improve the economy and grow jobs.

Both campaign memos were infused with skepticism about any debate's ability to signal a clear winner in November. The Obama campaign previewed its plan to needle Romney for "more specifics" on his plans, while the Romney campaign said it will press Obama on his record.

Each side complimented the other candidate's ability to attack theirs, and both said they expect more of the same during the debate, raising expectations for the other side to fail while simultaneously downplaying their own.

"PBS NewsHour" host Jim Lehrer, the moderator of the Oct. 3 debate, told The Denver Post this week that both candidates will have plenty of time to share their competing visions or trot out attack lines, depending on whether they meet their rival's expectations.

"This is the first time open discussion time of these lengths have been permitted," he said. "There are six segments of 15 minutes each. Each candidate will get a two-minute answer to the first question in each segment and then there will be an open discussion."