US elections: Barack Obama and Mitt Romney in virtual lockdown as they prepare for first of three televised debates

Debates may be a make-or-break moment for Mitt Romney.

Denver

Against a background buzz of mixed polling numbers and increased sniping over foreign policy, the two candidates for the American presidency were in virtual lockdown today cramming for Wednesday night’s televised debates that may be a make-or-break moment for the challenger, Mitt Romney.

Mr Romney, who used a column in the Wall Street Journal to target President Barack Obama for his administration’s response to the killing of US Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Libya two weeks ago, was already Denver, the site of tomorrow night’s debate. Team Obama was behind closed doors in a desert resort close to Las Vegas in near permanent debate rehearsal with Senator John Kerry playing Mr Romney.

While the theme at Wednesday’s debate – the first of three between the presidential contenders – will be domestic policy, Mr Romney is likely to raise the recent turmoil in Libya and Egypt and question Mr Obama’s handling of it. “Our country seems to be at the mercy of events rather than shaping them,” Mr Romney wrote in the Journal. “We’re not moving them in a direction that protects our people or our allies.”

A flurry of new polls ahead of the debates underscored the high stakes for both men, particularly Mr Romney who has suffered serial missteps since the Republican convention in Tampa. A new Washington Post survey showed Mr Obama leading him 52 to 41 per cent in the handful of battleground states that will decide the election. By a margin of 55 to 31 per cent respondents expected Mr Obama to win the debates.

But a poll for Politico.com showed only a two-point gap between the men – within the statistical margin of error – in the battlegrounds with Mr Obama scoring 49 per cent to Mr Romney’s 47 per cent. “The basic underpinnings of this race are just not changing, and that’s what’s going to keep this a very close race,” argued pollster Ed Goeas of the Tarrance Group, a Republican who helped compose the survey.

Nonetheless, it remains clear that it is Mr Romney who has biggest hill to climb with some party insiders fearing that a poor performance tomorrow could lead some supporters to consider him a lost cause, which in turn could lead to a drying up of contributions and fewer outside groups advertising for him.

“For Romney, it’s a double goal that he has: He’s got to get that likability up, particularly among women,” argued Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who also helped with the Poltico survey. “And he’s got to draw a sharp contrast on what he’d do on the economy. That’s very difficult to do simultaneously… It’s hard to maintain likability when you’re being an attack dog.”

Mr Obama attempted to downplay expectations for himself while addressing a rally in Las Vegas late yesterday. “I’m looking forward to it. I know folks in the media are speculating already on who’s going to have the best zingers... and who's going to put the most points on the board,” he offered, before adding to a mixture of laughter and applause: “Governor Romney, he’s a good debater, I’m just OK.”

The president’s debate-prep team were said last night to be focusing in particular on persuading him to keep his answers short tomorrow and not to expand too lengthily on topics that might send viewers to sleep and to avoid appearing either professorial on the stage or even condescending to his sparring partner.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam