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Obama says Romney is ‘a good debater. I’m just OK’

LAS VEGAS -- President Obama jumped into the pre-debate expectations game on Sunday evening, calling himself a ho-hum debater and showering praise on his opponent’s skills.

“I know folks are speculating already on who’s going to have the best zingers,” Obama told a crowd gathered at a high school in Las Vegas. “Who is going to put more points on the board.”

When the crowd answered, “You are!” Obama corrected them.

 “No, no. Gov. Romney, he’s good debater. I’m just OK,” he said.

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The folks at Desert Pines High School in Las Vegas apparently did not get the memo. For days, Obama’s campaign has been diligently trying to lower expectations ahead of Wednesday’s first face-off between Obama and his Republican rival Mitt Romney. They’ve been effusive in praising Romney’s debating skills, while rather openly dissing their own guy. Earlier in the day, Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki talked about the president’s battle with brevity.

DEBATE QUIZ: Who said it?  

Obama, at the evening rally, promised not zingers but “a serious discussion.”

“That’s the debate that you deserve,” he said. (The “zinger” conversation started with a  New York Times article on Friday that said Romney had been forwarded a number of them to use during the debate.)

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At his appearance, hours after he arrived from Washington, Obama spoke to crowd estimated at more than 11,000 in the largely Latino east side of Las Vegas. The campaign is trying to boost voter registration among Latinos ahead of Saturday’s deadline for registration. Obama is leading Romney among Latino voters nationally by a wide margin -- more than 2 to 1 in some polls. About one-third of the population in southern Nevada is Latino.

The president’s primary focus in Nevada, however, is preparing for Wednesday’s debate. Aides suggested Obama was going to get right to it when he arrived in Las Vegas on Sunday afternoon and keep it as his focus over the next few days. He seemed somewhat distracted and fatigued at the evening rally, rushing through and, at times, stumbling on parts of his stump speech.

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kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

Twitter: @khennessey


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