WASHINGTON - As U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney prepare for the first of their three debates, analysts weigh in with their thoughts about what each candidate will need to do to sway voters in this pivotal election event.
Recent polls have given the president an edge heading into Wednesday's showdown. Given that trend, Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said the president's job will be to maintain the status quo.
"I don't think he has to draw any grand designs about a second term," he said.
Sabato said for Romney, though, it is a very different situation.
"Most people see the debates - the first one in particular - as a do-or-die moment for him," he said.
Vanderbilt University political science professor Marc Hetherington said Romney can win over voters in the debates if he sticks to what he is good at doing.
"Governor Romney needs to stay focused on the things that people, at least up until recently, have viewed him as the stronger advocate for. And that is economic concerns. His background in business seems to be something that people have generally liked," said Hetherington.
He said both candidates will have to push hard to connect with undecided voters.
"That's, of course, the trick at this point - figuring out who you can move at this late stage in the game [this close to the election]," said Hetherington.
Brookings Institution analyst Stephen Hess said that for both men, it is a question of likability. He said Obama will need to defend his record without coming across as overly aggressive.
"We can expect that he will be attacked. That's the nature of debates. And one thing he has to do is not lose his cool. Some people find him a bit 'uncool' - arrogant, if you will," said Hess.
Seeking charisma, leadership
Hess said there generally are two schools of thought concerning Romney.
"There's the one that says the American people are not terribly comfortable with him as a man, and it is very important for him to be better liked - likability. Then the other school would, of course, be that this is his opportunity to show strong leadership," he said.
Hess said the November presidential election will be largely about the economy, and both candidates will have to stress that issue in the debates.
Related video report by Cindy Saine: