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, the capital of the western state of Colorado. Topics are set to include the economy, health care and the role of government. Many say it is Romney who has the most to prove.
With just a few days to go before the first debate, President Obama focused his weekly address Saturday on one of its key topics: the economy.
The president criticized Congress, especially Republicans, for not acting on a plan that he says would save homeowners thousands of dollars. "The truth is, it’s going to take a while for our housing market to fully recover. But it’s going to take a lot more time - and cause a lot more hurt - if Congress keeps standing in the way," he said.
President Obama has himself faced criticism for not doing enough to address the housing crisis. But he said in his address that the housing market is "healing."
And that is not the only positive economic news.
Revised figures from the Labor Department show the country has more people employed now than when President Obama took office in January 2009.
The new numbers counter Romney’s claim that the nation has lost hundreds of thousands of jobs under Obama.
The loss of the campaign weapon comes after an already tough couple of weeks for the Republican candidate after a video surfaced showing him telling wealthy supporters that 47 percent of voters consider themselves "victims" entitled to government support.
Matthew Dowd, the chief strategist for former President George W. Bush's 2004 campaign, said on ABC News that the debates are critical for 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," he said.
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.
Looking ahead to the debates, Romney acknowledged their importance. "It'll be a good chance for the president and for me to have a conversation with the American people about our respective views," he said.
While expressing their views is the point, Dowd says the effect of a candidate's debate performance on voters is more about style than substance.
"If you take a look at the history of debates, it's not really about policy specifics, it's not really about facts. People have heard a lot about that. They've seen it, they've read it. They've got it all. It's more about what are the cues that indicate the kind of person or personality or how they're [the candidates are] going to be, their mannerisms," he said.
Foreign policy issues are being reserved for the second and final 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.