Top aides to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney say the candidate is prepared for the 2012 presidential debates, which begin in early October. And it's a good thing: They might be his last chance at catching up to President Barack Obama.
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The post-Democratic National Convention bounce for Obama and his widening lead in the polls show the momentum is on the president's side with less than two months until the Nov. 6 election. That's despite the recent weak data on jobs and the escalating turmoil in the Middle East.
The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll of likely voters found Obama beating Romney by 7 percentage points, 48 percent to 41 percent. The president's lead in the daily tracking survey has been growing steadily since Sept. 7, when it was just 2 percentage points.
"What that really means is that Obama is in good shape," Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said.
So if you're Romney, and you see the clock running out, you've got to be placing many of your chips on the three presidential debates, the first of which will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 3, at the University of Denver in Denver, Colo. The moderator is Jim Lehrer, executive editor of the PBS NewsHour.
"We're going to be ready -- very ready to face the president and we're going to win," a top Romney aide told BuzzFeed earlier this month.
The online publication reported that the Romney campaign has chosen to "exude confidence about the upcoming contests -- an attempt to counterbalance the gloomy mood set by Obama's post-convention polling bounce, talking at length about Romney's preparation, something the White House has done not at all."
Political analysts point out that debates tend to benefit challengers, allowing them to rise in stature by simply being on the same stage as the president.
"There is some evidence that people learn more about the challenger than the incumbent," Bill Benoit, an Ohio University communications professor, told The Hill. "Attitudes toward an incumbent are more difficult to change."
The Capitol Hill publication reported that Republicans are counting on this year's presidential debates being similar to the one held between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter in 1980. The platform allowed Reagan to deflate "many of the negative stereotypes that had clung to him up until that point, appearing as a credible and non-extreme candidate for the nation's highest office," according to The Hill.
Can Romney do the same?
The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan thinks so.
"Everyone says Obama has the advantage because he's a wonderful debater," Noonan writes. "It's not true. There's no evidence he's ever been a wonderful debater. He won the election in 2008, so people think, retrospectively, that he was great at debate. But he wasn't, he just never lost an inch to John McCain and seemed steadier, less scattered. ... What Mr. Obama tends to be is unruffled, steady and cool. But this can also come across as passive, uninterested and unforthcoming."