WILLIAMSBURG, Va. >> President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are skipping campaigning Sunday to focus on preparing for their debate Tuesday night, with the incumbent trying to rebound from a widely panned performance at the first face-off and the Republican nominee hoping to repeat his strong showing.
The president was gathering with advisers at a riverfront resort in Williamsburg while Romney was sticking to his Boston-area home ahead of the prime-time town-hall style debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., exactly three weeks before the Nov. 6 election.
After a listless first debate Oct. 3, Obama was working with aides on more pointed and aggressive responses to his Republican rival in the tight race. While dismissing Romney’s debate tenor as “magical and theatrical,” Obama adviser Robert Gibbs predicted the president would step up his game in the second matchup.
“He knew when he walked off that stage, and he also knew as he watched the tape of that debate, that he has to be more energetic. I think you’ll see somebody who is very passionate about the choice that our country faces,” Gibbs said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Romney will be ready for a more aggressive Obama, adviser Ed Gillespie said.
“The president can change his style, he can change his tactics, he can’t change his record and he can’t change his policies. And that’s what this election is about,” Gillespie told CNN.
Romney’s campaign released a new television advertisement using footage from running mate Paul Ryan’s debate last week with Vice President Joe Biden. The ad features clips of Ryan saying the government “can’t keep spending money we don’t have.” His comments are juxtaposed with video from the debate of Biden laughing.
The campaign did not say in which states the ad would run.
Obama aides have tried to make debate preparations a higher priority for the president this time. Ahead of first debate, some of Obama’s practice sessions were cut short, and others were canceled, mainly because of developments in Libya, where four Americans were killed at a U.S. consulate.
Aides say Obama is still dealing with those matters and others. But the urgency that led to interruptions during earlier debate preparations has subsided, and the campaign is trying to ensure that Obama stays more fully engaged in his practice sessions.
Despite questions about the effectiveness of his debate preparation, Obama is working with the same team this time around. Advisers David Axelrod and David Plouffe, along with former White House officials Anita Dunn and Ron Klain, are running the preparations. Deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes has been added to the team because the second and third debates involve foreign policy.
Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., is playing the role of Romney.
One of the priorities during the practice sessions is sharpening the president’s retorts to Romney and drawing a sharper contrast between what the campaign says are Romney’s shifting positions on key issues.
The president may have picked up a few pointers from Biden.
Obama watched Thursday’s debate with aides in a conference room on Air Force One as he traveled back to Washington. The president said little throughout the debate, but did chime in when Biden would deliver a particularly pointed counter to Ryan.
Romney returned to Massachusetts on Saturday night after campaigning in Ohio. He planned to spend most of his two days at home in Belmont getting ready for the debate.
With Romney is Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who’s playing Obama in mock debates.
Associated Press writers Kasie Hunt in Boston and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington contributed to this report.