THE RACE: Fall debates could take on added import

September 18, 2012 - 2:36 PM
Romney 2012

Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., takes questions during a campaign stop, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012 in Dover, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)

As Mitt Romney's campaign struggles to get past jarring distractions and back on message and President Barack Obama works to build on his small lead in polls, October's presidential debates are suddenly looming in importance.

And both candidates have been cramming for them, finding time when they can, including on long flights.

While such debates are seldom game changers, they do offer the candidates a chance to demonstrate before millions of TV-watching voters their ability to stand up to on-the-spot pressure while trying hard to avoid embarrassing gaffes.

With the race still extremely tight and the size of the undecided vote ever shrinking, the confrontations will be watched especially closely.

This year, there are three presidential and one vice presidential debates, all in October.

First up is an Oct. 3 presidential showdown at the University of Denver, to focus on the economy and domestic policy. Vice President Joe Biden and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan square off in Danville, Ky., Oct. 11.

The second presidential debate will include audience questions in a town-hall format Oct. 16 at Hofstra University in New York. And the final showdown, in Boca Raton, Fla., on Oct 22, will focus on foreign policy, where Romney has recently stumbled.

Romney honed his debating skills in nearly two dozen GOP primary debates early in the campaign cycle. Obama hasn't had recent debate experience, but he's been seasoned by exchanges as president with congressional and foreign leaders and with reporters at news conferences.

After raising money in Utah, Romney was heading to Dallas Tuesday for another fundraiser.

Obama was taping an interview with David Letterman and attending two fundraisers in New York City, including a $40,000-a-ticket one in a nightclub with husband and wife musicians Jay-Z and Beyonce.

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