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Obama crams for second debate

President Barack Obama

By Kathleen Hennessey, Tribune Washington Bureau –

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — President Barack Obama is hunkered down with aides at a Virginia golf resort, trying to plot his comeback from the lackluster first debate that blunted his campaign’s momentum.

Obama arrived in Williamsburg on Saturday for his second “debate camp,” what aides describe as three days of focused briefing and practice aimed at coming back swinging in the second debate against Republican nominee Mitt Romney.

The Obama campaign has promised he will return with a sharper, more aggressive style in Round 2 and points to the president’s recent speeches and ads as a flavor of what’s to come.

Obama has been punchier, openly mocking Romney, stopping just shy of accusing him of lying, all the while using humor to take the edge off attacks that might damage the president ‘s strong likability ratings. Before his first debate with Romney, the president boasted that he would be serious and wouldn’t be delivering zingers. These days, Obama has been delivering zingers left and right.

Romney once said he was severely conservative, Obama said Thursday in Florida. Now, “he’s trying to convince you that he was severely kidding,” he said.

It’s not clear how the president will try to translate those new lines into Tuesday’s debate, which is a town-hall forum designed to show off a candidate’s ability to show empathy with voters, rather than hand-to-hand combat. Obama spokeswoman Jen Psaki seemed already to be lowering expectations for Obama on the connecting front.

“The question is not just which candidate connects with the questioner but who has the better policies for the American people for the next four years, and on that front the president has a great advantage,” Psaki said. “Gov. Romney has been making pitches all his life and he knows how to say what people want to hear, whether that was during his time at Bain or during the dozens of town halls he did during the primary.”

The Obama campaign also has praised Vice President Joe Biden’s animated and aggressive performance last week against Rep. Paul Ryan last week, and said it expects Obama to emphasize some of the same issues, including Romney’s tax plan, his approach to women’s health issues and his plans for winding down the war in Afghanistan.

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