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Raising the Presidential Debate Stakes

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo

In addition to the usual Obama campaign advisers — David Axelrod, Stephanie Cutter, Jim Messina and Robert Gibbs — the spin room will have appearances from Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.), Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and John Kerry (Mass.), Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), as well as Reps. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Nydia Velázquez (N.Y.) and Karen Bass (Calif.). The campaign is also bringing in Democratic Govs. Martin O’Malley (Md.) and Deval Patrick (Mass.) and former Govs. Jennifer Granholm (Mich.) and Ted Strickland (Ohio), among others. O’Malley was a designated surrogate for the first debate as well.

Deploying such a large group marks a significant shift in approach for the Obama campaign, which has been prone to go it alone during this year’s long campaign. The administration’s relationship with Hill Democrats has been icy at times, which led to opinions in the Capitol that White House officials believed they knew better than their Hill counterparts or, worse, that they did not need them to maintain control of the White House.

The Romney surrogate team did its job in the first debate, and Congressional sources say that the Romney campaign’s inclusiveness has been by design.

“You have to have more surrogates out there when you’re going up against the president of the United States,” said a Republican aide close to a Member who served as a surrogate in one of the debates. “There’s a lot more buy-in [from the party at large] when you’ve got people like Portman and Rubio and Ayotte speaking for the campaign.

“Team Romney has built a campaign to try to bring everyone in, bring in every tool they have to unseat a Democratic incumbent in a tough race ... and they have a good set of surrogates who can hit many points,” the aide continued.

NBC News on Monday promoted Portman, who has been preparing Romney for the debates, and Cutter, who has emerged as Obama’s top trail surrogate, as the lead representatives for its prime-time coverage.

With just three weeks until Election Day, the campaigns have become a battle of teams. Downticket races are dependent on the presidential performances, and key states such as Ohio, Florida and Virginia, home to some of Congress’ most vocal Members, could decide what is increasingly looking like a tossup presidential race.

Roll Call predicts that Republicans will maintain control of the House on Election Day. The battle for the Senate is too close to call, but Roll Call gives a slight advantage to the Democrats to hold their majority. The outcome of the presidential race could determine how comfortable the GOP’s House majority is next Congress, and could affect which party is running the Senate.

As Republican campaign strategists digested polling conducted after the first debate, they saw better numbers for some GOP House candidates, including in partisan states where the presidential race is all but decided. For Republicans monitoring Senate races, the picture also improved, although Democrats still hold advantages in key races or are threatening in traditionally GOP territory. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee disputed Republican contentions that Romney’s strong performance in Denver has provided coattails to GOP Senate candidates.

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