Obama’s debate foe: Long-windedness

President Barack Obama's campaign on Monday tried to tamp down expectations for his debate performance against Mitt Romney, and acknowledged that the former law professor needs to learn to shorten his answers.

"While Mitt Romney has done 20 debates in the last year, he has not done one in four years, so there certainly is a challenge in that regard," campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama headed out on a day-long political swing in Ohio.

"The shorter format of the debates is not always conducive to somebody who gives comprehensive, substantive answers, which we know he tends to do from the number of town halls he's been [to]," she said.

Substantive? That means "long-winded," right?

"I think that he and his team are aware that that is a challenge when you have the opportunity to give shorter answers, that you can't give a five-minute explanation for an issue," Psaki said.

It's been widely reported that Democratic Senator John Kerry will play Romney in Obama's debate preparations. But Psaki declined to share other details about how the president is getting ready for his three face-to-face sessions with the Republican standard-bearer.

"I can confirm three things: [One,] He will be at the debates, participating. Two, he will be--let's see, what else can I confirm for you--he's not debated in four years," she said. Third was the comment about the president's tendency to give long-form replies to questions.

But "we have no plans to read out or confirm how he's going to be preparing for the debates," she said.

And what good would Psaki be if she didn't also try to raise the expectations for Romney? (It's a classic D.C. spin game that relies on reporters judging performance based on what was expected rather than what was achieved.)

"We know that Mitt Romney and his team have seemed to prepare more than any candidate in modern history, starting in July, taking time out during the Democratic Convention, taking that week to prepare," she said.

"And they have made clear that his performing well is a make-or-break piece for their campaign and his candidacy," she added.