WASHINGTON — President Obama has been forced to cancel several debate practice sessions with Senator John F. Kerry, whom he tapped to play stand-in for Republican challenger Mitt Romney, leaving little time for them to spar before next week’s first presidential debate.
The Massachusetts senator has held at least one mock debate with Obama to help him prepare for the first matchup against the former Bay State governor, to be held Oct. 3 in Denver, but several others were canceled due to the president’s busy schedule, said deputy Obama campaign manager Stephanie Cutter.
In line with a decision at Obama headquarters in Chicago to keep the details of the debate preparations secret, Cutter declined to say how many sessions were canceled, and Kerry declined to be interviewed about how he has been boning up on Romney’s debating style.
But the Obama team appeared Thursday to go out of its way to lower expectations for the trio of one-on-one debates between the president and Romney next month.
“I will just take this opportunity to say that Mitt Romney on the other hand has been preparing earlier and with more focus than any presidential candidate in modern history: Not John F. Kennedy, not President Bill Clinton, not President George Bush, not Ronald Reagan has prepared as much as he has,” Jen Psaki, a White House spokeswoman, told reporters on Air Force One, according to the press pool report. “So there’s no question that he will have a lead on how prepared he is.”
She did say that the president has “been doing some studying” but cited his travel schedule, unfolding events in the Middle East, and “just the constraints of governing” as preventing Obama from focusing more time on it.
The three scheduled debates between Obama and Romney are seen as one of the former Massachusetts governor’s last big chances to open a lead against the president, who is up in most polls.
It has been nearly four years since Obama participated in a one-on-one debate. Obama campaign advisers say that they have been studying Romney’s record and proposals closely, and the president is expected to spend this weekend preparing for the Wednesday night debate in Denver.
Meanwhile, Romney underwent an intensive Republican primary process that was marked by a high number of debates. Even so, he has not debated a Democrat since his gubernatorial debates against Shannon O’Brien in 2002.
Romney’s campaign has put heavy emphasis on his own debate preparations, holding several lengthy sessions during the Democratic National Convention, where he and top aides huddled in the Vermont home of former Massachusetts lieutenant governor Kerry Healey.
While campaigning in Ohio earlier this week, Romney joked about how good Senator Rob Portman, the Ohio Republican, was at playing Obama in his debate sessions.
“After the, you know, hour and a half or so is over, I’m like, I want to kick him out of the room he’s so good,” Romney said during a rally in Dayton.
He added that, in Portman’s eyes, Romney is the one who is winning the mock debates.
“When he gets finished he said, ‘You beat me again. You beat me again,’ ” Romney said. “Well, he likes my arguments, you see. He’s the better debater, but he likes my arguments better. He knows they’re right.”Bryan Bender can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeBender.