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CBS Hypes Romney's 'High Negatives'; Wonders if Obama Will Be 'Competitive' or 'Cool' at Debate

Norah O'Donnell made it clear on Monday's CBS This Morning that her job as anchor is to repeat her stick-a-fork-in-Romney mantra and boost President Obama. On the issue of the upcoming debates, O'Donnell asserted, "We already know he [Romney] has high negatives - perhaps, a likeability problem." She later asked if "we see the competitive President Obama...or will we see the cool, constitutional law professor?"

The anchor couldn't be bothered to bring up the continuing unrest in the Middle East; the related issue of the Obama administration's changing story as to what happened in the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya; or the new developments in the Fast and Furious controversy.

O'Donnell and co-anchor Charlie Rose brought on the National Journal's Major Garrett for his take the two presidential candidate's preparations for the first debate on Wednesday. Rose asked about "what surprises might we expect, and what's the strategy for these two going into this debate." When Garrett touched on Chris Christie's confident prediction about Romney on Sunday's Face the Nation, the PBS veteran wondered, "Doesn't it create rising expectations?"

The former Fox News journalist continued by pointing out that "on the other side, the President has been systematically – and those who support him - lowering expectations....I mean, they are systematically trying to say, if Romney scores, it doesn't matter. Well, in fact, it will matter, and that's what we're going to tune in for on Wednesday."

O'Donnell then chimed in with her bucket of cold water for Romney and her fluff about Mr. "Competitive" or "Professor" Obama showing up at the debate. To his credit, Garrett pointed out a possible weak spot for the President:

O'DONNELL: Let's talk about the challenges for each of the candidates - first, the Republican, Mitt Romney. We already know he has high negatives - perhaps, a likeability problem. How does that affect whether how hard he can go against President Obama, in terms of drawing some of the distinctions that many conservatives say he needs to do?

GARRETT: Zingers and one-liners in presidential debates resonate because they fit within a larger narrative. And I will tell you right now, the two campaigns understand this about the narrative. The obama campaign has been better at framing it around Mitt Romney, than Mitt Romney has been framing it around the President. And so, the Obama campaign believes, even if there are devastating or memorable zingers, if they don't fit within the narrative - which they believe they control - it won't last and alter the underlying dynamics of this race. The Romney campaign fears that might be true, but wants to try it's very best to alter that narrative. I-

O'DONNELL: And then, what about President Obama? Will we see the competitive President Obama that -privately, people say - really dislikes Mitt Romney; or will we see the cool, constitutional law professor?

GARRETT: Well, both, because to win - because he's competitive - he needs to be cool, and he knows that, and that's the one overriding concern presented to him by his advisers. Don't freak out; don't get anxious; don't get publicly, visibly irritable.

The former NBC correspondent has been spotlighting the bad news for the former Massachusetts governor for the better part of three weeks. She asserted in a contentious interview of Senator Rob Portman on September 13 that Romney "stepped in it" with regard to his attack on the administration's response to the protests in the Middle East. Four days later, O'Donnell played up a Politico report about supposed "turmoil" inside the Republican candidate's campaign. On September 26's CBS This Morning, the CBS anchor twice wondered, "is it too late" for Romney.

The full transcript of the Major Garrett segment from Monday's CBS This Morning:

NORAH O'DONNELL: Now to presidential politics, and the first debate is coming up on Wednesday. Usually, both sides try to lower expectations for their candidates. That's what President Obama did on Sunday. But one of Mitt Romney's leading supporters had a different view.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA (from campaign event): I know folks in the media are speculating already on who's going to have the best zingers - who's going to put the most points on the board. Governor Romney – he's a good debater. I'm just okay.

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R), NEW JERSEY (from CBS's "Face the Nation"): I've seen Mitt Romney do this before. He's going to come in Wednesday night; he's going to lay out his vision for America; he's going to contrast what his view is, with what the President's record is, and the President's view for the future; and this whole race is going to be turned upside down come Thursday morning.

[CBS News Graphic: "Race For The White House: Obama Lowers, Christie Raises Debate Expectations"]

CHARLIE ROSE: National Journal's White House correspondent, Major Garrett is with us now. Good morning.

MAJOR GARRETT, NATIONAL JOURNAL WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning – good to be with you.

ROSE: So, what surprises might we expect, and what's the strategy for these two going into this debate?

GARRETT: Why did Governor Christie say what he said, because he knows-

ROSE: Yeah, exactly. We were just talking about that- (O'Donnell laughs)

GARRETT: He knows – he knows Governor Romney needs an audience, because if you look at the national polling data - ABC/Washington Post has a poll out this morning - two-thirds of the country already believes President Obama's going to win; he's going to win the debates. Well, they're not going to tune in if they don't think there's something exciting going on or likely to go on. So, Governor Christie said yes, tune in, because we're going to change this race, because if it isn't changed by Thursday - this debate doesn't fundamentally alter the underlying narrative of this race - the Romney campaign believes or fears, rather, that it could slip away.

[CBS News Graphic: "The Washington Post/ABC News Poll: Who Will Win The Debate? Among Registered Voters: Obama, 56%; Romney, 29%; Margin of Error: +/-  3.5%"]

ROSE: But doesn't it create rising expectations?

GARRETT: Of course, it does; of course, it does. And on the other side, the President has been systematically – and those who support him - lowering expectations. David Axelrod started talking to me in early August - well, you know, the President is really out of practice. It's been so long since he's been on a podium like this. I mean, they are systematically trying to say, if Romney scores, it doesn't matter. Well, in fact, it will matter, and that's what we're going to tune in for on Wednesday.

O'DONNELL: Let's talk about the challenges for each of the candidates - first, the Republican, Mitt Romney. We already know he has high negatives - perhaps, a likeability problem. How does that affect whether how hard he can go against President Obama, in terms of drawing some of the distinctions that many conservatives say he needs to do?

[CBS News Graphic: "The Washington Post/ABC News Poll: Support For President Obama Among Likely Voters: Nationwide, [Up] 2%; Swing States, [Up] 11%; Margin of Error: +/- 4%"]

GARRETT: Zingers and one-liners in presidential debates resonate because they fit within a larger narrative. And I will tell you right now, the two campaigns understand this about the narrative. The obama campaign has been better at framing it around Mitt Romney, than Mitt Romney has been framing it around the President. And so, the Obama campaign believes, even if there are devastating or memorable zingers, if they don't fit within the narrative - which they believe they control - it won't last and alter the underlying dynamics of this race. The Romney campaign fears that might be true, but wants to try it's very best to alter that narrative. I-

[CBS News Graphic: "The Washington Post/ABC News Poll: Who Will Win The Presidency? Among Registered Voters: Obama, 63%; Romney, 31%; Margin of Error: +/- 3.5%"]

O'DONNELL: And then, what about President Obama? Will we see the competitive President Obama that -privately, people say - really dislikes Mitt Romney; or will we see the cool, constitutional law professor?

GARRETT: Well, both, because to win - because he's competitive - he needs to be cool, and he knows that, and that's the one overriding concern presented to him by his advisers. Don't freak out; don't get anxious; don't get publicly, visibly irritable.

[CBS News Graphic: "Race For The White House: Candidates Focus On Debate Strategy"]

ROSE: A lot of people who support Mitt Romney, over the weekend on the Sunday talk shows, were saying he has to be very aggressive. He really has to take to it the President.

GARRETT: Well, what happens in presidential debates, is you have two fundamental goals as a candidate: drive your message and knock your opponent off his. And so, to knock the President off his message, the Romney campaign knows Governor Romney has to be unrelenting.

ROSE: Romney has an op-ed talking about his view on foreign policy. There seems to be some question within the Romney camp as to whether they should even be talking about foreign policy.

[CBS News Graphic: "Race For The White House: Romney Looks For Turnaround"]

GARRETT: Well, this has been an ongoing debate since the Libya crisis, and there were – in the immediate hours after that, when Governor Romney, sort of, stepped into this, his advisers said, you know, we're going to begin to prosecute this larger, more global argument against the president's foreign policy mishandling the Arab spring. It's now been weeks until this op-ed appeared. And if you look at that op-ed, it's not just about foreign policy. It's about American trajectory in the early part of the 21st century, and I think if Governor Romney brings that to the table - foreign policy, economic policy, a recovery that barely deserves the name, those kind of things - he pulls that argument together, this race might look a little bit different on Thursday.

ROSE: One last point: the force of gravity argument, the Obama campaign, the President is doing better than you would expect because of the economic circumstances-

GARRETT: Than every bit of historical data would tell us to expect - absolutely- why is that?

ROSE: Why is that?

[CBS News Graphic: "Race For The White House: What's Behind Obama's Rise In Polls?"]

GARRETT: Well, we at National Journal have a cover story - Beth Reinhard, Jim Tankersley, and I - asked not the tactical question - who's got the better tactics - but is there something happening to the American psyche about expectations for economic growth, and expectations of anyone in the political class to change their life for the better. And we've concluded, based on a lot of interviews, we've diminished our expectation - not only about Washington, but about what a recovery feels like and looks like. The country is numbed and traumatized by recent economic events, and, oddly enough, that, sort of, core level of underlying hopelessness is benefitting the candidate who brought a campaign message of hope four years ago.

O'DONNELL: Because many people think that the President could not do that much about it to influence the economy?

GARRETT: The President, the Congress, and they're not really sure any idea right now is the one - or the set of one ideas - to transform our economy from a low-lying recovery, to something that's better and more productive in a globalized, very competitive economy.

O'DONNELL: Major Garrett – he's brilliant, right?

ROSE: Yes, good. Whatever you like- (O'Donnell laughs)

O'DONNELL: Thank you very much.

GARRETT: Thank you.

— Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. You can follow him on Twitter here.