Posted 7 months ago on Oct. 8, 2012, 6:22 a.m. EST by bensdad
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By PETER BAKER and TRIP GABRIEL Published: October 7, 2012
WASHINGTON — President Obama’s campaign is working feverishly to restore its momentum after a lackluster debate performance last week, an effort that began with a conference call 10 minutes before the debate even ended and led to new advertisements, a rewritten stump speech, a carefully timed leak and a reversal of months-old strategy.
Representative Paul D. Ryan greeting two nonvoters in Sturtevant, Wis., on Sunday. The first and only debate between the two vice-presidential candidates is on Thursday.
Perhaps most important as the president’s team struggles to put his campaign back on track is a renewed effort to win the three remaining debates, starting with Thursday’s face-off between Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Paul D. Ryan. Mr. Biden began traveling to a Delaware hotel on Sunday for three days of debate camp.
Under the tutelage of David Axelrod, the president’s chief strategist who is personally overseeing the preparations, Mr. Biden will be counseled on how to avoid Mr. Obama’s mistakes and even correct them with a more aggressive prosecution of the Republican ticket. Mr. Axelrod’s involvement highlights the stakes the Obama campaign places on the debate, and Mr. Biden has been reading “Young Guns,” the book co-written by Mr. Ryan, and practicing attack lines that Mr. Obama avoided.
The focus on Mr. Biden comes as the campaign tries to diagnose what went wrong in Denver and what to do about it. Advisers had seen two presidents during practice debates, one who had been listless and passive two nights before and another energetic and aggressive the next night. It turned out the former was the one who showed up in Denver. He kept looking down and was not using the lines they had practiced assailing Mitt Romney, who kept the president on the defensive and presented a forceful case against his re-election.
For Mr. Obama, it was arguably the lowest point in his campaign for a second term. The campaign’s own focus groups and research indicated that he lost. Mr. Obama did not fully realize as he walked off the stage just how badly it had gone, but aides said he resolved to step up his game. “He doesn’t brood — he acts,” Mr. Axelrod said. “Whatever the concerns were about yesterday, he wakes up the next day ready to take it on again.”
On the conference call convened by aides in Denver and Chicago even as the candidates were still on stage, there was no debate in the Obama campaign about the debate. None of the advisers fooled themselves into thinking it was anything but a disaster. Instead, they scrambled for ways to recover. They resolved to go after Mr. Romney with a post-debate assault on his truthfulness. Ad makers were ordered to work all night to produce an attack ad. And they would seize on Mr. Romney’s vow to cut financing for Big Bird.
Mr. Obama has been helped by two subsequent events. A labor report on Friday showed that unemployment had dropped to 7.8 percent from 8.1 percent, still historically high but back down to where it was when he took office. And his campaign privately spread the word that fund-raising had soared, giving him a bankroll for a comeback attempt.
But the debate remains a singular event in the life of the campaign, watched by more than 67 million people — a larger audience than for any of Mr. Obama’s 2008 debates, either of his nominating conventions or any of his State of the Union addresses.
Thursday’s debate between Mr. Biden and Mr. Ryan may not draw quite the same audience, but both sides view it as critical and are preparing for a contentious clash. “With Paul Ryan, it’s a different dynamic” than when he debated Sarah Palin in 2008, said Jennifer Granholm, a former Michigan governor who played Ms. Palin in debate practice then. The vice president “can go hard on policy.”
In rehearsals, Representative Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat who is playing Mr. Ryan, has mimicked what he considered the Republican’s staccato speaking style and penchant for slashing arguments wrapped in a smile. “I expect the vice president to come at me like a cannonball,” Mr. Ryan told The Weekly Standard.
Mr. Biden’s advisers view Mr. Ryan as a walking encyclopedia of numbers and policy and hope he might get lost in the weeds. “The key is to be able to cut through the numbers that often don’t make sense,” said Mr. Van Hollen. Also crucial is helping Mr. Biden tame his own loquacious nature and proclivity for gaffes.