HENDERSON, Nev. — Nearing their first face-off, President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney are hunkering down for intense preparations ahead of Wednesday's presidential debate, where the GOP nominee hopes to change the trajectory of the White House race.
Obama was huddling Monday with top advisers at a desert resort in Nevada. Romney had practice planned in Massachusetts, where he also spent most of the weekend working with his debate team. The Republican challenger was then headed to Denver, the site of the first debate, later Monday for a rally and more preparation for the high-stakes event.
Five weeks from Election Day, polls show Romney trailing Obama in many of the nine states that will determine the outcome of the White House race. The three October debates give Romney one of his best opportunities to stem Obama's momentum and convince the public to back his vision for the nation's future.
"What I'm most concerned about is having a serious discussion about what we need to do to keep the country growing and restore security to hardworking Americans," Obama said during a rally in Las Vegas Sunday night.
As the candidates prepped for a debate focused on domestic issues, Republicans were keeping up the pressure on Obama on international issues, namely his administration's handling of the attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya that led to the death of the American ambassador and three others.
Romney, in an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, repeated his criticism of Obama for having called the attack and other unrest in the Middle East "bumps in the road."
"Our country seems to be at the mercy of events rather than shaping them," Romney wrote. "We're not moving them in a direction that protects our people or our allies."
Both candidates were spending the days leading up to the debate in battleground states, with Romney in Colorado and Obama in Nevada.
Romney's intense focus on foreign policy is intended to undercut what the Obama campaign has seen as the president's ironclad international affairs credentials. To that end, Romney's advisers said he's planning a major foreign policy speech, to be delivered sometime after Wednesday's debate.
Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki was dismissive of the argument.
"There is no op-ed or no speech which we've heard he may or may not give at some point that is going to change the view of the American people that he has been reckless, erratic and irresponsible on foreign policy issues every time he has had an opportunity to speak to them," Psaki told reporters in Henderson, Nev., where Obama is preparing for the debate.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Romney's op-ed "contains no specifics or an alternative," adding that most of the positions Romney was advocating "are no different from what the president is actually doing."
One possible exception is Iran, Carney said, where Romney appears to oppose U.S. policy of economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation.
"The alternative is war," Carney said.