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Obama, Romney teams upend expectations game heading into second debate

The Obama campaign appears to be taking nearly every opportunity ahead of the second presidential debate to tell Americans what to expect from President Obama, while the Romney camp has remained essentially mum – a sharp contrast to the days before the first debate when the parallel strategy was to lower expectations.

After a weekend in which Obama senior campaign adviser David Axelrod promised a more “aggressive” president, Romney officials opened up a little Monday about the challengers' own prospects while offering little insight about a strategy for attack or counter-punch.

"President Obama does well in these town hall formats,” a senior Romney adviser told Fox News. “We also think this type of format is conducive to the type of one-on-one conversation that Governor Romney wants to have with voters about the big issues facing the country.”

Romney practiced debating with Republican Sen. Rob Portman on Saturday in Ohio before making two campaign stops in the battleground state and then returning to Massachusetts for more debate practice with Portman, who plays the role of Obama.

Romney was widely seen as outperforming Obama on Oct. 3 in the first debate, which helped the Republican erase nearly all of Obama's edge in the polls. However, the campaign realizes Romney cannot afford a loss in the second debate, with 22 days before the election, and it is leaving little to chance, even building a replica of the town hall setting on which to rehearse. 

“The Obama campaign has promised a more aggressive President Obama in this next debate,” the Romney adviser said. “We expect he'll launch one attack after another in an attempt to distract from his record and make up for his weak performance in Denver.”

The president, meanwhile, has been at Kingsmill Resort, in Williamsburg, Va., for the past three days studying and practicing with Romney stand-in Sen. John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat.

The president took a study break Sunday afternoon when he visited a campaign office and told volunteers he was “doing great” with the debate prep.

But while Obama has stayed mostly silent and behind closed doors, campaign officials appeared ready to telegraph the president’s strategy – including the issue of women’s health care and Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, which were not mentioned in the first debate.

“I think he's going to be aggressive in making the case for his view of where we should go as a country,” senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Axelrod also argued Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan's recent failures to explain how Romney would pay for his $5 trillion tax plan will force Romney to give “another try to square this impossible circle.”

Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki over the weekend further underscored what lines of attack to expect from the president during the debate.

"Governor Romney has been making pitches all of his life and he knows how to say what people want to hear, whether that was during his time at Bain or during the dozens of town halls he did during the primary," she said Saturday.

On Sunday, Psaki pointed out women's health care issues were left out of the first debate, seeming to suggest Obama would raise the topic this time.

Ben Tulchin, a Democrat pollster and president of San Francisco-based Tulchin Research, decline to speculate on the Obama strategy but said, “At the end of the day, the president has got to step up and perform. He’s created the expectation by performing so badly. Now he must execute.”

The debate will be at Hofstra University on New York's Long Island.

Romney campaign adviser Ed Gillespie said Romney will handle the expected attack by doing what he did in the first debate.

"He's going to talk about his agenda,” Gillespie said Sunday. “Whatever political tactic the president settles on as being in his best interest for the debate, he can't change his record and can't change his policies.”

Fox News' Jake Gibson contributed to this report.