DENVER -- Passengers at the airport here heard a cheerful message on the train from the terminal to baggage claim on Tuesday: Watch the presidential debate Wednesday night and vote.
Behind the benign civics lesson from the city -- a day before the first presidential debate at the University of Denver -- was a lot of pre-showdown maneuvering from the Mitt Romney and Barack Obama camps:
MAKE OR BREAK?
Romney surrorgate John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor, was asked on a briefing call with reporters if indeed this is a make-or-break debate.
He wisecracked, "Based on the expectation game, I expect both candidates to vanish before our eyes."
Romney has the most at stake on Wednesday -- by now that is massive conventional wisdom -- which his team has not been able to much dispute.
Romney's Republican convention was supposed to be his second chance to make a first impression. Romney gets another crack at it at this debate.
The discussion will likely touch on taxes, job creation, the housing crisis, health care, Romney's tenure at Bain -- and his "47 percent" remark. I hope Romney and Obama are pressed about how they can get Washington to work -- especially since the post-partisan era Obama sort of promised in 2008 never materialized.
"Honestly, what I think you're going to see tomorrow night is Governor Romney-- agreat deal of America has never seen Governor Romney except in news clips, and news clips selected by the news medium that's presenting them. And that's not always the best way to see who someone is," Sununu said.
"So I think tomorrow night is an opportunity for America to take a look at Governor Romney standing side by side with President Obama and make a choice as to which one of these individuals really has a history of understanding the impact problems have on people, having lived a life of service to people and being capable of solving major problems," Sununu said.
BIDEN OFF MESSAGE
Vice President Joe Biden, stumping in battleground North Carolina, stepped on the campaign message on Tuesday when he said -- blasting Romney and running mate Paul Ryan's tax plans -- that the middle class has been "buried" for four years.
That's all it takes to get in trouble. One word in an otherwise passionate argument that frames the Obama strategy: the election is not a referendum on what Obama has done these past years as much as it is about who will do better in the future, Obama or Romney.
Here's what Biden said about Romney and Ryan: "How they can justify -- how they can justify raising taxes on the middle class that's been buried the last four years, how in Lord's name can they justify raising their taxes with these tax cuts?
"And look, folks. We've seen this movie before, massive tax cuts for the wealthy, eliminating restrictions on Wall Street, let the banks write their own rules. We know where it ends. It ends in the catastrophe of the middle class and the Great Recession of 2008.
Ryan, campaigning in battleground Iowa, pounced on Biden's buried remark. And I wouldn't be surprised if we hear about it at the Denver debate -- or when Ryan and Biden debate Oct . 11 in Kentucky. The Romney team has been looking for ways to try to dilute Romney's "47 percent" remarks, and the Biden blooper gives the Romney/ Ryan team a chance to pitch themselves as better for middle-class folks, despite Romney seemingly writing off 47 percent of voters in that secretly recorded videotape.
Said Ryan, "Unemployment has been above 8 percent for 43 months. Our economy is limping along right now. Vice President Biden just today said that the middle class over the last four years has been, quote, buried. We agree. That means we need to stop digging by electing Mitt Romney the next president of the United States.
"Of course the middle class has been buried. They're being buried by regulations. They're being buried by taxes. They're being buried by borrowing. They're being buried by the Obama administration's economic failures."
MICHELLE'S POKER FACE
Wednesday is the Obamas' 20th anniversary. She told CNN's Jessica Yellin she tries not to show any emotion at debates.
"I get so nervous at these debates," Mrs. Obama told Yellin. "I'm like one of those parents watching their kid on the balance beam. You're just standing there trying not to, you know, have any expression at all."