From Obama debate prep, with secrecy

Olivier Knox
The Ticket

LAS VEGAS - President Barack Obama took a break Tuesday from secretive preparations for his debate with Mitt Romney to make an unannounced trip to the Hoover Dam.

"It's spectacular and I've never seen it before," Obama said to journalists, according to pool reporter David Nakamura of the Washington Post. "I didn't realize it was so close by."

It was the president's second brief foray out of his behind-closed-doors sessions with advisers and Democratic Senator John Kerry, who is standing in for another patrician, wealthy, slightly awkward Massachusetts politician, Romney (hat tip: Jake Tapper). On Monday, Obama left his posh resort hotel to visit a campaign field office, where he revealed that debate prep was a bit of "a drag" because his advisers were making him do his "homework."

White House and campaign aides have been tight-lipped about just what is going on at the  resort in nearby Henderson, where Obama has been girding for the political equivalent of a heavyweight championship bout. They have been so tight-lipped, in fact, that reporters pretty much know more about the Navy SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden than about the president's debate prep.

When asked if the president will deliver prepared remarks or improvise for the two-minute summation each candidate will get at the end of Wednesday's debate in Denver, Colo., campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, "I don't want to get into specific strategy because our friends in Colorado are probably reading into whatever we're saying. So, unfortunately, I don't have much for you on that."

Psaki has said, repeatedly, that Obama's main challenge is paring back his frequentliy verbose answers and working to seem less "professorial." But that's about all she's said.

Well, how about White House press secretary Jay Carney? He's seen the president prepare for town meetings, interviews, and public question-and-answer sessions with the press. What does he have to say when asked how those compare to preparing for a debate?

"I've never seen him prepare for [one] before, so it's different," said Carney. When a reporter asked if he could elaborate, he said, "No." When asked how the president will address Mitt Romney—as Governor? Mister Romney? Mitt?—Carney, a former journalist, demurred.

"Can I just say, having been on that side of the lectern and in those seats, that I completely understand the desire to find out more about [the process], as well as I'm sure Governor Romney's preparation process," Carney said. "As Jen mentioned, it's just not something that we're going to get into. And I know that can be frustrating."

One reporter facetiously tried Psaki again: "What can you tell us about debate prep?"

"It 's happening in a suburb of Las Vegas called Henderson. That's all I have," she said gamely.

OK, well, how has the president been unwinding after his debate prep sessions?

"I know this may surprise you, I'm not spending time with him in his room at 11 p.m.," said Psaki to laughter from reporters.

Debate prep is not the only thing that gets Obama aides in full "shhhhhh, we don't want to tip off the Romney campaign" mode. In the past, they have turned aside questions about their vaunted get-out-the-vote strategies, whether they advertise during sports events because fewer people DVR them and skip commercials, and similar questions.