The first presidential debate: 'Do or die' for Mitt Romney?

Romney is facing immense pressure to decisively win next week's debate against an upward-bound President Obama

Mitt Romney speaks to supporters at the Seagate Center in Toledo, Ohio, on Sept. 25 during a campaign stop: Romney has had his fair share of debates but this will be his first one against Pr
(Image credit: AP Photo/Rick Ostentoski)

The first presidential debate will take place on Oct. 3, and aides to President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are already trying to raise the bar for their opponent's performance: On Thursday, top Romney adviser Beth Myers sent out a memo arguing that Obama is "widely regarded as one of the most talented political communicators in modern history," with eight presidential debates under his belt to Romney's zero. Team Obama set its marker down earlier, with Jim Messina calling Romney "quick, polished, and ready with a punchy attack" thanks to extensive preparation and his victories in the endless GOP primary debates. But as Politico's Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman note, Obama is winning right now, so a decisive victory in the first debate "has gone from merely important to critical" for Romney. Is the Denver debate, in fact, "do-or-die time" for the Romney campaign — and can Romney rise to the challenge?

Romney needs a bounce, and will get one: Romney's party and donors are on the verge of jumping ship, and the first debate is the only scheduled potential game-changer left, says Robert Shrum at The Daily Beast. So for Romney, it's "debate like a champ or see his candidacy wither and die." He's not too quick on his feet, but he's shown himself an able debater and "he does have advantages going in." The biggest one: History. Since 1984, "in the first debate, against an incumbent president, a challenger tends to win."

"How Mitt Romney can win the first debate with Obama"

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One debate can't save Romney: It would take a pretty impressive performance to shake up this race, says Michael Cohen at Britain's The Guardian. Does anyone really think that "the gaffe-tastic Romney... has the political chops" to debate his way out of his hole? Or that "no-drama Obama" will make a flub "so grievous and costly that he will open the door to a Romney comeback"? Seriously, unless Obama "uses the debate to unleash a profanity-laced diatribe against the people of Ohio and Florida," Romney's best hope is a small bump in the polls.

"The presidential debate myth: Not the 'game-changer' you might think"

Debates, in general, rarely change anything: In a tight race like this, a small bounce "could be enough to nudge the election in competitive states like Colorado and Ohio," says Tom Curry at NBC News. But political scientists say we have "a tendency to overstate the impact of debates" because they rarely if ever change the outcome of an election. We tend to "fixate on 'telling' moments," like Ronald Reagan's "there you go again" zinger in 1980, but Reagan was already beating Jimmy Carter. A great one-liner will win Romney a place in political lore, but it won't win him the White House.

"Debate will be Romney's chance to alter trajectory of the race"

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