Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will clash head-to-head for the first time Wednesday in a high-stakes live televised debate that could transform the U.S. presidential election campaign.
From a stage in Colorado, the president and his Republican challenger will each tell an estimated 60 million viewers that he is the man who can revive the stagnant American economy.
For Romney, a former Massachusetts governor who trails in polls with just 34 days remaining, the debate may mark the last opportunity to dramatically alter his prospects.
For Obama, amid a relentless jobs crisis and a Washington in political gridlock, it offers a late chance to convince struggling voters that he still embodies hope and can deliver change.
As the first public meeting of two men who are known to personally dislike one another, the debate is the most tensely anticipated moment of the campaign to date.
Arriving in Denver, Romney said that at stake was the future of a country still reeling from the effects of a financial crisis that struck amid the last presidential campaign in 2008. In my view its not so much winning and losing or even the people themselves: the president and myself, he told supporters. Its about something bigger than that. With 23 million people jobless or seeking more work, Romney attacked Obama for prioritizing health care reform, adding: Jobs is job one under my administration.
The Republican vice-presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, told a radio interview: Were entering the phase where we get to frame the choice of this election.
The debate, the first of three over the coming three weeks, centres on the economy the issue to which Romney had pledged to devote his entire campaign before his ailing ratings forced him to rethink.
In an interview with Colorados main regional newspaper yesterday, he announced that, as president, he would honour the temporary work permits granted to young illegal immigrants under a controversial action by Obama earlier this year.
The western state is one of 10 key battlegrounds in which Romney is lagging behind, according to RealClearPolitics. Its large Hispanic population sharply favours Obama after Romney took hard-line stances on immigration during his party primary contest.
Moving to protect Obamas 35-point lead among Latinos, the White House said he would make the home of the late labour leader Cesar Chavez a national monument next week. The president enjoys an average national lead of three points.
Romney is expected to stress in the debate that as president he would represent 100 per cent of Americans, in an effort to reduce the damage caused by secretly recorded footage of him telling wealthy donors that 47 per cent of people were feckless victims. While he was yesterday locked in a hotel outside Denver for last-minute coaching from top aides, Obama was holed up in a resort in neighbouring Nevada making up the debate prep he claims to have skipped due to the Middle-East crisis.
Both camps have sought to lower expectations of their candidates performances, in a ritual dance repeated every four years.
Debate is to be held at the University of Denver in Colorado and will focus on domestic policy. There are no opening statements and the questioning will be divided into six segments of 15 minutes each. Both candidates will give a two-minute closing statement and stand at the traditional podiums in front of a blue curtain.
Proceedings will be moderated by Jim Lehrer, a veteran news presenter who has chaired 11 debates over the past 25 years.
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