President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney come face to face for the first time in this presidential campaign Wednesday for a nationally televised debate that will give millions of Americans a chance to size up two fierce competitors in a moment of high-risk theater.
Romney, who is trailing in polls in a number of key states and running short on time to reverse his fortunes, is angling for a breakout performance in the three 90-minute presidential debates scheduled over the next three weeks.
Obama is well aware that the remaining five weeks of the race still offer enough time for tectonic shifts in his prospects. He'll want to avoid any campaign-altering mistakes as he presses his case for a second term.
A senior adviser to Mitt Romney says viewers of tonight's debate will see that Romney "really cares about putting Americans back to work."
An Obama campaign adviser, meanwhile, says the president plans to "have a conversation with the American people about where we've been over the past four years."
Those previews, on CBS this morning, come in advance of the first of three planned debates between the two candidates. The first one focuses on domestic policy.
The debate comes as Romney trails in the polls in a number of key states. He's looking for a breakout performances in the three debates over the next three weeks.
Republicans have tried to frame the economic debate in their terms by pointing to yesterday's comments by Vice President Joe Biden in North Carolina -- where Biden said the middle class had been "buried the last four years." The Republicans say that's an acknowledgement that Obama's policies have failed.
Obama's camp responds that the policies of Obama's Republican predecessors had caused the damage.
The debate begins at 9 p.m. Eastern time.