Spin Alley in full swing prior to debate

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Spin Alley at Denver presidential debate. Oct. 3, 2012

Spin Alley at Denver presidential debate. Oct. 3, 2012

DENVER — As the hours ticked down to the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, the soundbites were already flying inside the media filing center adjacent to the debate hall, as pundits and staffers on both sides offered the 3,000 journalists on hand a preview of the attack lines likely to be heard on stage Wednesday night.

In short, both sides aimed to lower expectations but admitted that the opportunity, before a television audience likely to be around 50 million people, is critical for both campaigns.

Romney, the challenger, benefits just from taking the stage next to the president, something his surrogates feel will help him cross the threshhold of being viewed as a possible president.

“When the American people tune in and theyy see them mono a mono, side by side with the President, they’re going to say Mitt Romney could be president, maybe he should be president,” said Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz, a Colorado native and one of Romney’s strongest supporters in the House. “So just the fact that they stand up there side by side I think elevates Mitt Romney to a level I think people need to see him at.”

Obama’s top advisers concede that Romney benefits from showing up, but hinted that Obama may try to speak past Romney to the voters watching on TV.

“What the president’s perspective is, how do I talk directly to the American people about what I want to do?” former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told FOX31 Denver.

Stephanie Cutter, Obama’s deputy campaign manager, told FOX31 Denver she expects Romney to go on the attack early.

“One thing we know Mitt Romney’s good at. That’s attacking the president,” Cutter said. “What he’s not good at is telling the American people how his plans and policies are going to move this country forward.”

As Cutter is hinting, Obama is likely to press Romney for more specifics on his plans, namely his proposed 20 percent across-the-board tax cut that would cost $5 trillion.

In an exclusive interview with FOX31 Denver Monday, Romney offered a new solution that would help pay for the tax cut, a cap on tax deductions at $17,000.

“As an option, you could say that everyone’s going to get up to a 17,000 deduction,” Romney told FOX31 Denver. “You can use your charitable deduction, or your mortgage deduction or others, a healthcare deduction, and you can fill that bucket if you will, that $17,000 bucket.”

Previewing perhaps the president’s counter-argument tonight, Cutter told FOX31 Denver Wednesday afternoon that a $17,000 cap on deductions would still likely result in a net tax increase on the middle class.

“On average, families last year paid about $15,000 for their healthcare premiums, so there’s your deduction cap right there if you’re going to deduct your healthcare premiums. What happens to your mortgage? What happens to your child deduction? What happens to your charitable deduction? What about your state and local taxes? So that means taxes are going up.”
 
Such an argument on policy, even as an important policy as taxation, isn’t likely to determine which candidate is seen more favorably following the debate.
 
“In boxing terms, debates are not remembered for all 15 rounds,” political analyst Eric Sondermann told FOX31 Denver. “They’re remembered for the knock-out punch.”
 
If Romney goes on the attack, he’s likely to hit on Vice President Joe Biden’s gaffe Tuesday when he said that the “middle class has been buried the last four years.”
 
Romney’s campaign seized on the comment immediately, even calling a press conference in Denver Tuesday night.
 
“Burying the middle class wasn’t exactly the kind of shovel ready job President Obama promised,” Congressman Cory Gardner said at that rally.