"They see election appearances," O'Donnell says of voters, "they see campaign events, they see television ads, all of those things — they know those are controlled. Those are staged, but debates, in their minds, are not staged. They're those places where candidates have to ask tough questions and think quickly on their feet."
"...O’Donnell may be the most potent force on Bachmann’s presidential campaign. His job description is debate coach. But he’s more accurately described as the candidate whisperer, because that’s what he does all day.
"He is known in the industry for working with the natural abilities of his clients rather than doing what too many consultants try to do, which is to make a candidate into something he or she is not."
Romney has been through nearly two dozen debates, just this election cycle, which means O'Donnell probably doesn't deserve all the credit. But given his personality, McKinnon says O'Donnell would be the last person to take the credit anyway.
It came as no surprise to campaign operatives and debate specialists who have worked with O’Donnell and call him a master coach, as adept at preparing candidates to make their points succinctly as he is at pumping them up before they take the stage.
“Brett actually studied and taught debate at the highest levels before bringing his considerable chops to politics,” said Mark McKinnon, a Republican strategist who worked with O’Donnell on former President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign.
Romney, 64, deserves most of the credit for his improved debate performances last week, McKinnon said, adding: “But having Brett O’Donnell aboard for debate prep is going to raise the level of anyone’s game, because Brett is simply the best in the business.”
After Mitt Romney's big victory in the Florida primary, there's one person in particular he may want to thank: his debate coach, Brett O'Donnell. "Brett's the only guy I know in the business who actually has that kind of formal training and background," says McKinnon.
Accordingly, he and his staffers reached out to master debate coach Brett O'Donnell, citing a Bloomberg story.
There is a saying in Washington that goes: "If you want to raise your debate game, call Brett," who is known for his uncanny ability to inspire others in delivering a sound message to voters.
"But having Brett O'Donnell aboard for debate prep is going to raise the level of anyone's game, because Brett is simply the best in the business," McKinnon added.
However, thanks to his new master debate coach, Mitt Romney may already be focusing on his victory speech for when the Florida Primary polls close.
Romney's newest addition to his team is no stranger to politics. O'Donnell has coached four presidential candidates, including Romney.
"Governor Romney's a very good candidate so it was just a matter of talking through strategy," said O'Donnell.
Liberty University won its first national championship under O'Donnell's leadership. In his 18 years at LU, O'Donnell's teams won 18 national titles, and the debate center was named in his honor in 2008.
"The reason for that is because of the impact he had in making debate available," said Michael Hall , director of LU debate.
"My work at Liberty absolutely prepared me for what I'm doing right now," said O'Donnell. "Even though the debating styles are different, the methods of preparation are very, very similar."
50 Most Powerful People in Washington list
1. Brett O'Donnell, Romney's Debate Coach
...Reporters started noticing O'Donnell, a veteran debate coach who helped prep John McCain in 2008 and Michele Bachmann, hanging out with the Romney team. "O'Donnell helps candidates do one of the most difficult things in debates—be both on message and on offense while being themselves," says longtime GOP message maven Doug Heye. "There's been a huge change since O'Donnell joined the campaign. Romney's much more aggressive, much better prepared and turned in the best debate performance of his career last night," says Joe Trippi, Howard Dean's former campaign manager.
Oddly, city hall doesn't brag about its only national claim to fame — the Liberty University debate team.
This season Liberty is closing in on an unprecedented sweep — first place in the rankings in all three national college debate groups: the American Debate Association, the Cross Examination Debate Association and the National Debate Tournament.
Two men are responsible for this improbable success. One is Liberty's founder, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who has spared no effort to make his school into a national debate power. The other is the team's head coach, Brett O'Donnell.
In 2004, Karl Rove brought O'Donnell in to help the Bush presidential debate team, and O'Donnell expects to be working with Republican candidates again this year.
The McCain team recently also hired Brett O'Donnell, the winning debate-team coach from Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, to help with debates and communication.
This time, Kaine seemed to be back on his heels more than once.
So what happened?
Maybe the person to ask is Brett O'Donnell.
Brett O'Donnell is listed in state records as the principal owner of O'Donnell and Associates Ltd., a firm that Kilgore's campaign paid $3,000 and listed as a "consultant" to the effort.
A Google search turns up the fact that O'Donnell is also the director of debate at Liberty University.
But why the school's founder insists on it may be the most interesting part of all.
His name: Rev. Jerry Falwell.
For Falwell, Liberty's debate program is about a lot more than bragging rights. It's about winning the culture war, once and for all. Most of these kids will become lawyers, and lawyers become judges.
When Hartman asked a group of debaters which of them would like to see the Roe Vs. Wade abortion decision reversed, a lot of hands went up. Those hands stayed up when he asked whether they would reverse the decision if put in a chance to do so.
"These young people, for the rest of their lives, will be God's spokespersons," Falwell says.
Liberty is just one of a number of Christian colleges that now focus on debate. They're turning out graduates who aren't the least bit afraid to talk religion. In fact, they say, bring it on.