ABOARD MITT ROMNEY'S CAMPAIGN PLANE (Reuters) - While President Barack Obama and his supporters rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, next week, Republican rival Mitt Romney will be off the campaign trail to prepare for the televised debates this autumn against the Democratic incumbent.
Senior Romney campaign adviser Kevin Madden said Romney planned to spend Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday on debate preparation at the home of Kerry Healey in Reading, Vermont. Healey was the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts while Romney was governor of the state.
Madden could not confirm whether Romney would campaign at all during the week of the Democratic National Convention, which runs from Tuesday to Thursday in Charlotte, but he downplayed the move and insisted it was not a reversal of previous plans.
Senior Republican strategists, including Madden, said last month that Romney would have a full campaign schedule, including in battleground states, during the week of the Democratic convention.
"I expect we will have public events, I just don't have them confirmed yet," Madden said.
Romney, who formally accepted the Republican presidential nomination earlier this week in Tampa, Florida, is in a close race with Obama, who is personally popular but vulnerable due to anger over the sluggish U.S. economy
Democrats, in turn, have tagged Romney as a wealthy elitist out of touch with average Americans. The Republican challenger must beat back that charge and overcome criticism that he is dry and aloof in public if he is to win the November 6 election.
The three televised debates on October 3, 16 and 22 could be pivotal points.
Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio will stand in for Obama during Romney's debate preparation, while Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, will play Romney during Obama's pre-debate sessions.
Obama regained a narrow lead on Saturday by 44 percent to 43 percent over Romney, in the latest daily installment of the four-day Reuters/Ipsos rolling poll. Republicans had hoped their convention would give Romney a huge lift in the polls rather than the modest bump that appears to have materialized.
When asked about the prospect that Democrats would monopolize headlines with their convention in Charlotte, Madden said that Romney's "surrogates" would be busy campaigning during the week.
Romney's running mate, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, is planning to campaign, beginning with a visit to North Carolina on Monday.
"I don't think it's going to be like a news blackout," Madden said.
(Editing by Paul Simao)