Rehearsal for those debates consumed the early part of the day for the former Massachusetts governor, who huddled with senior advisers in Los Angeles ahead of an evening campaign stop at a Denver-area high school. Romney has consistently taken time from his campaign schedule in recent weeks to focus on debate preparation, by studying up on policy issues and role-playing with Sen. Rob Portman (R., Ohio), who has been tapped to play Obama in Romney's debate dry runs.
While both sides are downplaying expectations, Romney's campaign sees the debates - the first one in particular - as a huge opportunity to get his campaign and its message back on track. A secretly recorded video released Monday showed Romney writing off his prospects for winning over the almost half of Americans who he said pay no taxes, are dependent upon government and see themselves as victims dominated the week.
"That certainly was a political analysis at a fund-raiser, but it's not a governing philosophy," Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.), a prominent Romney supporter, said on NBC's Meet the Press. "He absolutely has a vision for 100 percent of America. And that is really different from this president."
The Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, conceded that it wasn't the best week for Romney's campaign, but said in retrospect it would be viewed as the moment when the race crystallized around a central theme.
"I think that we had a good week last week" because "we were able to frame up the debate" about the direction of the country, Priebus said on ABC's This Week.
In a slap at his opponent, Romney on Sunday released a television ad citing a new book by Washington Post editor Bob Woodward that claims that during a 2009 conference call on stimulus negotiations, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D., Calif.), put Obama on mute. "If he cannot lead his own party, how can he lead America?" the ad says.
Pelosi has flatly denied the incident ever occurred.
"Clearly, this ad is an act of desperation," she said in a statement released Sunday.
Also Sunday, former President Bill Clinton, citing a raft of recent polls that show Obama widening a lead in several key swing states, said Obama is winning.
But Clinton said Romney's money advantage and Republican efforts in states around the country to put more restrictions on voting still threaten the president's chances of being reelected.
"Assuming the debates are even a draw, I think the president will win," Clinton said CBS's Face the Nation. "But I think you can't know because of the enormous financial advantage that Citizens United gave to these Republican super PACs and because of the work they have done and will do on Election Day to try to reduce the number of young people, first-generation immigrants, and minorities voting."
The candidates themselves will be busy this week. From Denver, Romney was to begin a three-day bus tour in Ohio on Monday followed by a stop in Virginia - states that Obama won in 2008 but that Republicans claimed four years earlier. Obama was set to be in New York on Monday and Tuesday for a speech before the U.N. General Assembly, plus an appearance on ABC's The View.
This article contains information from Bloomberg News and Tribune Washington Bureau.