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O'Reilly: Romney can 'close the gap' at debate Wednesday

Bill O’Reilly said that Wednesday's debate against President Obama is a golden opportunity for Mitt Romney.

The “The O’Reilly Factor’’ host spoke with Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Tuesday about the upcoming debates and his new book, “Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot,’’ which hit stores on Tuesday.

“I think Romney is running a little bit behind, but I think if he does well Wednesday, he’s going to close the gap,’’ O’Reilly said. “He’s got to say, ‘This is what I can do for you to make your life better.’ If he can do that, and then he can put the president on the defensive a few times, he’ll gain.’’

Stiff one-liners, O’Reilly believes, will only backfire.  

“If you come in with zingers, you sound stupid,’’ he said. “They have to just occur to you. Romney’s got to have enough confidence in his intellectual acumen to get in there. But if he comes in with all this rehearsed stuff, he’s just going to come across as a zombie.’’

Romney’s challenge is humanizing himself to voters.

“People don’t really know who Mitt Romney is,’’ O’Reilly said. “The pressure is on the governor. He has to come across as a regular guy, which I’m not sure he can do. He has to kind of drop the façade of being a politician. The president really basically just has to maintain his cool demeanor. They’re both not going to say anything startling. You’ve heard it all before if you pay attention, but it’s the way that Romney presents himself.’’

O’Reilly recalled the 1980 presidential race in which polling showed Ronald Reagan trailed incumbent Jimmy Carter in the lead-up to the debate.

“Reagan was behind when he started the debate part, but he made Carter almost look small,’’ O’Reilly said. “Reagan was larger than life. He came across as authoritative yet accessible, and if I were Romney I would be watching those Reagan tapes every hour on the hour.’’

The campaign staff for both sides have been downplaying their candidates' debate skills.

“It’s just ‘Play it down, tamp it down,’’’ O’Reilly said. “It’s all a game, you know that.’’

O’Reilly said his new book has information on the late John F. Kennedy that hasn’t been unearthed before.

“We got access to the FBI agent assigned to Marina Oswald. We know everything Lee Harvey Oswald did from the time he met Marina in Russia to the time he pulled the trigger. This is all new information. I think people are going to be stunned when they read it. It snaps your head back.’’

O’Reilly will star in a debate of his own, against his nemesis, “The Daily Show’’ host Jon Stewart. The 90-minute pay-per-view debate, billed as “The Rumble in the Air-Conditioned Auditorium,” will stream online from George Washington University on Saturday. All proceeds from the $4.95 fee to watch it will go to charity.

O’Reilly is working hard to get prepared.

“Taking a nap,’’ he joked about his strategy. “He is terrified by the way. Stewart’s a good man, we’re going to raise a lot of money for charity, and we hope everybody checks it out.’’

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