DENVER, CO. -- Crack out the popcorn and score sheets.
Finally, after months of jabbing at each other from sometimes across the country, President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney will square-off toe-to-toe here for round one of the presidential debates.
There are three this month.
And if you believe the campaign spin, they are all going to be absolute snore-fests with both campaigns setting the bar abysmally low for their candidate.
“Governor Romney is a good debater, I’m just OK,” Obama told supporters in Nevada over the weekend.
His campaign, too, has already given Romney the win, since he appeared in 23 Republican primary debates in the past 12 months and he has had more time to prepare for Wednesday, given that Obama is just too busy being president.
Obama is a “very gifted” and “eloquent speaker who has experience in one-on-one debates whereas Romney has none,” according to Romney’s own spokespeople. So Obama will win Wednesday easily.
Ultimately, lowering expectations is an old campaign trick that betters the odds for a perceived win, since the candidate only has to exceed them.
It was once joked George W. Bush would win the 2004 debates against Sen. John Kerry just by not tripping on his way to the podium.
Still, while no one is predicting a win, both camps are viewing the debates not to score points in the sparring match -- though Romney has been reportedly memorizing a series of zingers in case he gets the chance to use them.
Instead, for both, Wednesday is an opportunity to frame the election for up to 50 million viewers without media filters or campaign spin.
“(W)hat I’m most concerned about is having a serious discussion about what we need to do to keep the country growing and restore security for hardworking Americans,” Obama continued. “That’s what people are going to be listening for, that’s the debate you deserve.”
Romney, too, said what matters Wednesday night isn’t about winners and losers.
“(Or) even the people themselves, the president, and myself. It’s about something bigger than that. These debates are an opportunity for each of us to describe the pathway forward for America that we would choose,” Romney said at a rally in Colorado Monday night. “And the American people are going to have to make their choice as to what kind of America they want. And so I look forward to these debates. I’m delighted that we are going to have three debates. It is going to be a conversation with the American people that will span almost an entire month.”
For Romney, the underdog, who enters the debate slightly trailing Obama in national and even some swing state polls, the top priority will be to hit Obama hard on the issue of the economy, the focus of Wednesday’s showdown.
And that is ostensibly Romney’s wheelhouse. It is, after all, what he’s tried — desperately at times — to keep his campaign focussed on since Day One.
And it’s also where Obama is most vulnerable, with an unemployment rate still above 8%, and the US Gross Domestic Product growing in the second quarter of this year at a sluggish 1.3% -- lower than the 1.7% expected.
Experts seem to agree Romney must also appear likeable, relatable, and presidential, not an easy task in 90 minutes under hot TV lights.
Obama’s campaign has reportedly been helping the president shorten his answers and explain his positions more concisely in their debate preparations.
An eloquent speaker, sure, but also longwinded at times and he can come off as condescending and professorial.
Another task for Obama, while avoiding Romney’s barbs, is to make his case why Romney is not up for the job.
Expect to hear a lot about the now infamous “47 per cent” remarks, and also the Democrat line that Romney’s so-called “trickle down” economics have been tried, and failed before.
In 2000, then vice-president Al Gore was leading George W. Bush heading into their first debate.
But in the week that followed, Bush roared past Gore in the polls, ultimately by nine points, and eventually won the election.
Many credit Bush’s debate performance for the turnaround.
Will history repeat itself?
Not according to the campaign spin.
Remember, it’s the other guy who is going to win.
Wednesday’s debate, at 9 pm ET, will be shown live on Sun News Network.