U.S. President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, are preparing for the next critical phase of the 2012 election season — the presidential debates.
The two candidates hold the first of their three debates on Wednesday in Denver, Colorado.
On Saturday, President Obama focused his weekly address on one of the first debate’s main topics: the economy. Wednesday’s debate also is set to cover health care and the role of government.
Both candidates are holding practice sessions to prepare for the debates, which are expected to draw more than 50 million viewers each.
Mr. Romney says the debates will be “a good chance” for him and Mr. Obama to “have a conversation with the American people” about their respective views.
Recent public opinion polls indicate President Obama has a significant lead over the former Massachusetts governor in many of the so-called swing states expected to decide the November 6 election.
The Republican candidate’s standing has fallen since a video surfaced earlier this month showing him telling wealthy supporters that 47 percent of Americans pay no taxes and consider themselves “victims” entitled to government support.
Mr. Romney’s campaign suffered another blow Friday when revised figures from the Labor Department countered his campaign claim that the nation has lost jobs under President Obama. The new numbers show the country has more people employed now than when the president took office in January 2009.
Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist for former President George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign, said on ABC News that the debates are critical for Mr. Romney.
“The race right now is a five- or six-point national decline on his part. He’s losing in all the electoral states. He does not want to get in a situation where this goes past him, and he can’t catch up. He’s got to do it on October 3, and he has to do well. And I think actually the race will close. He’ll show up and do reasonably well, but he has to do that.”
Foreign policy issues are being reserved for the second and third debates, scheduled for October 16 and October 22. But the candidates are already in competition on the subject, with both holding separate phone discussions with the Israeli prime minister Friday on preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
(Main photo, of US president Barack Obama: Marc Nozell)