(NEW YORK) — With the first presidential debate less than three weeks away, Mitt Romney is spending lots of time getting ready behind closed doors. In his first comments on that debate prep, he told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on Thursday that Sen. Rob Portman is a tough stand-in for a president who basically lies in debates.
“I think the challenge that I’ll have in the debate is that the president tends to, how shall I say it, to say things that aren’t true,” Romney said. “I’ve looked at prior debates. And in that kind of case, it’s difficult to say, ‘Well, am I going to spend my time correcting things that aren’t quite accurate? Or am I going to spend my time talking about the things I want to talk about?’”
The former governor told Stephanopoulos he’s tempted to use Ronald Reagan’s famous line against President Carter in a 1980 debate, “There you go again” — the same line that Bill Clinton turned on Romney and the Republicans at the Democratic convention in Charlotte.
When asked if Portman was crushing him in early debate preps, Romney was coy.
“I’m not revealing those kind of secrets. But I will never debate Rob Portman again,” Romney said with a laugh.
“He’s very good,” he said.
The debates are at a critical moment in the campaign, with the latest polls showing Obama gaining an edge over Romney in the key battleground states.
Romney told Stephanopoulos the debates “may well be” the campaign’s make or break moment.
“Sometimes there’s something big that happens and they become deciding. Other times, it’s like, well, nothing really changed. We’re in the same spot we were before the debates. I can’t predict what’ll happen. But I think it’ll be revealing one way or the other,” he said.
Romney said he wasn’t concerned about new polls showing him trailing in Virginia and Ohio — even though it’s virtually impossible for him to get the 270 electoral votes he needs without victories in those two states.
“Well, I’m ahead in a lot of other states, too. I saw one this morning, ahead in Florida, ahead in North Carolina. Gosh, we’re even tied in Wisconsin,” Romney told Stephanopoulos. “These polls are going to bounce around a lot. I don’t pay a lot of attention day to day to which state’s up and which one’s down. But I believe that when the final decisions are being made by the American people, they’re going to ask themselves, ‘Who do I have confidence in to keep America safe? And who do I believe can get our economy doing what it needs to do?’”
Romney said the most important numbers in this election are 23, 47 and 16.
“23 million Americans out of work or underemployed. 47 million people on food stamps. $16 trillion in debt. And now the Federal Reserve, it says, ‘Look, this economy is not going well,’” he said.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Jeremy Diamond and Karl de Vries, CNN Newswire
Eric Bradner, CNN Newswire