Romney on debate prep: ‘I’m just glad I won’t be debating Rob Portman’

Holly Bailey
The Ticket

WOODSTOCK, Vt.—As Democrats wind down their national convention, Mitt Romney is wrapping up several days of intense debate prep at a home in the rural woods of Vermont.

Since Tuesday, Romney and several of his senior aides have been holed up at a vacation home owned by Kerry Healey, who was Romney's lieutenant governor in Massachusetts. All week, Romney has been doing mock debates with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who played Barack Obama for John McCain's debate prep in 2008 and is doing the same for Romney this time around.

It's a change of pace for the Republican presidential candidate who has made no secret of his distaste for debate preparations. During the primaries, Romney often rejected the idea of doing mock debates, in favor of simply fielding rapid-fire questions from his senior advisers as they sat around a conference room table.

But with the race a statistical tie between Romney and Obama, the GOP candidate has been forced to step up his game—perhaps knowing that any misstep in the upcoming debates could dramatically shift the electoral landscape ahead of November.

After all, Romney has been in this situation before. In 1994, polls suggested Romney had a good chance of unseating Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, but a series of disastrous debate performances wounded Romney's bid and he never recovered.

Over the past three days, Romney has been seen just once—venturing out Thursday to a hardware store and a pizza restaurant in New Hampshire just over the Vermont border. Noticeably more tan after several days off the trail, Romney offered no specific details about how his debate prep has been going but suggested it has been tough.

"I'm just glad I won't be debating Rob Portman in the final debates," Romney told a small pool of reporters who had accompanied him on his brief sojourn away from debate prep. "He's good."

On Thursday, Romney is scheduled to head back to his vacation home in Wolfeboro, N.H., and will hit the campaign trail again Friday, traveling to Iowa and then back to New Hampshire—states where Obama is also set to campaign on Friday.