WASHINGTON (AP) — Finally, the fall season offers the matchup sure to attract the biggest audience of the campaign: President Barack Obama goes one-on-one with Republican rival Mitt Romney in three prime-time debates.
Typically the top political draw in the final sprint to Election Day, the debates assume outsized importance this year with the race a dead heat. The two polished candidates will have their sound bites and rhetoric down cold so any slip or inadvertent move — like President George H.W. Bush’s exasperated glance at his watch or Democrat Al Gore’s repeated sighing — could roil the campaign for days and linger in voters’ minds until Nov. 6.
No wonder Romney spent days this past week holed up at the Vermont estate of former Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey for debate practice sessions with Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who played the role of Obama. The president, for his part, has had one practice session with Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democrats’ stand-in for Romney, and is certain to have several more before the first debate Oct. 3 in Denver.
The second debate, a town hall-style session, is Oct. 16 in Hempstead, N.Y. The final debate, on foreign policy, is Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla. GOP running mate Paul Ryan and Vice President Joe Biden have one debate, Oct. 11 in Danville, Ky.
In the first debate, on domestic policy, Romney and Obama will be armed with competing numbers and visions.
The second debate on Oct. 16 will cover domestic and foreign policy with questions from a group of undecided voters selected by the Gallup Organization, a format that could elicit the unusual and the memorable.
The final debate Oct. 22 focuses on foreign policy, an area in which Obama has received high marks from Americans in opinion polls. The president will offer a spirited defense of his aggressive record in pursuing al-Qaida, the killing of Osama bin Laden and the collapse of Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya.
Romney has argued that Obama has “thrown Israel under a bus” and has failed to show resolve in challenging Iran and its suspected nuclear weapons program.