Romney's campaign had promised a focused argument against Obama's handling of the economy earlier this year. But tumultuous events overseas and the revelation of a secretly recorded video of Romney telling donors that 47 percent of the country believes they are victims entitled to government assistance has pushed his campaign off its planned course.
The first debate is focused on domestic policy, and Romney adviser Ed Gillespie acknowledged Monday that the former Massachusetts governor expects questions about the video.
Obama was huddling Monday with top advisers at a desert resort in Nevada. Romney had practice planned in Massachusetts, where he also spent most of the weekend working with his debate team. Romney was then headed to Denver, the site of the first debate, later Monday for a rally and more preparation for the high-stakes event.
Five weeks from Election Day, polls show Romney trailing Obama in many of the nine states that will determine the race. The three October debates give Romney one of his best opportunities to stem Obama's momentum.
"What I'm most concerned about is having a serious discussion about what we need to do to keep the country growing and restore security to hardworking Americans," Obama said Sunday night during a rally in Las Vegas. "That is what people are going to be listening for. That's the debate you deserve."
Romney planned to deliver a major foreign policy speech in the coming weeks and argued in the Wall Street Journal that the United States appears to be at the mercy of disturbing developments overseas, instead of shaping them.
"We're not moving them in a direction that protects our people or our allies," Romney wrote. "And that's dangerous."
His running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, criticized Obama's response to the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya that killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans working there. Ryan told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham that the Obama administration has been inconsistent on what caused the attack - whether it was a premeditated terrorist attack or a spontaneous uprising over a YouTube movie that criticized Islam.
"It's really indicative of a broader failure of this administration's foreign policy and the crisis that is taking place across the Middle East," Ryan said. "It is clear the administration's policy unraveled."