Obama, Romney drop off trail ahead of first debate

by Michael Mathes, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Sep 30 2012 10:47 AM | Updated as of Oct 01 2012 01:40 AM

BELMONT, Massachusetts - US President Barack Obama and rival Mitt Romney lay low Saturday ahead of next week's debate, with the two polishing their plans of attack as they seek an edge in their crucial first face-off of the campaign.

With the president off the campaign trail just 38 days before Americans vote on November 6, Romney spent a quiet day in Massachusetts, visiting the home of son Tagg in a Boston suburb and, according to his campaign, steering clear of debate preparation.

But that will be the focus for much of the coming days for both men as they ready for the first showdown, on Wednesday in Denver, Colorado, one of about a dozen swing states where voters will determine the election's outcome.

Both sides began their debate spin weeks ago, seeking to set high expectations for their opponent, which they could then declare he failed to meet, while setting the bar low for their own candidate.

Democrats have stressed that Romney is a challenging debater who honed his skills with about 20 debates in the Republican primaries several months ago. Republicans counter that Obama is seasoned with several presidential debates against John McCain in 2008.

Romney, who trails Obama in the polls, suggested he would do well at the debates, provided Americans do not merely seize on the "theatrics" of one-liners but focus on the issues at hand.

"The American people will listen carefully to the conversation... and they'll decide who can help their family, who will be able to get our economy going in the way it could be going and they'll make their decision based on what they believe is in the best interest of the country and their own family," Romney told reporters Friday.

"And I expect to be able to describe that in a way people will understand, and if they do, I'll get elected."

Romney has renewed his attacks on Obama's foreign policies, blaming the president's "passivity and denial" for sewing chaos in the Middle East.

The Republican nominee took Obama to task for saying unrest and violence were "bumps in the road," adding that such a "casual assessment of shocking events reveals that the president really doesn't understand the gravity of the challenges that we face in the broader Middle East."

In his weekly podcast Saturday, Romney made the case that Obama's 2008 victory was based not on any record of accomplishment but on his arguments that a more humble posture would command greater respect abroad and boost the US economy and moral standing.

"Four years later, every one of these arguments has been proven wrong," Romney said, citing the violent unrest coursing through the Middle East that led to the death of four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya.

With Obama and Romney hunkered down, the campaign trail was wide open for Vice President Joe Biden and Romney's running made Paul Ryan.

Stumping in Florida, a large battleground state with millions of senior voters, Biden hit out at the Republicans' plans to overhaul Medicare, the government health care program for nearly 50 million retirees and disabled Americans.

"This country is facing the starkest choice, the starkest choice for president that we've faced, at least in my memory, (and) the truth of the matter is that nowhere is it more clear what they would do than in Medicare," Biden told a crowd in Fort Myers.

Romney and Ryan seek to inject greater private competition in Medicare by converting the system's guaranteed benefits into vouchers. Republicans say the plan would save money, but Democrats argue it would expose millions of elderly to rising health care costs.

Ryan was hitting the hustings in Derry, New Hampshire, decrying what he said was Obama's ever-present threat to grow government and further saddle the nation with debt.

"You see, borrowing and spending and regulating and taxing and money-printing -- all of these things do not lead to prosperity," Ryan said.

"All of these policies basically say, 'Take power from people, take money from families and successful small businesses and job creators, send it to Washington and then they decide.'"

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