Obama under pressure to perform in debate rematch


President Barack Obama's camp is promising that the American public will see a more energised and visionary incumbent tonight as Mr Obama tries to keep Republican challenger Mitt Romney at bay.

Mr Romney's campaign got a much-needed shot in the arm two weeks ago when the Republican came out swinging in the first match-up between the two candidates, while Mr Obama appeared passive and tongue-tied at times.

The strong debate performance helped Mr Romney reverse his slide in the polls, and recent surveys put the race for the White House at a virtual dead heat just three weeks ahead of the November 6th election.

In a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll today, Mr Obama gained ground on Mr Romney for the third straight day, leading 46 per cent to 43 per cent.

"I think you'll see somebody who will be strong, who will be passionate, who will be energetic, who will talk about ... not just the last four years but what the agenda is for the future and how we continue to move ... our economy forward," Mr Obama's senior campaign adviser Robert Gibbs said on MSNBC.

The 90-minute debate at Hofstra University in New York begins at 9pm (2am Irish time).

Both men will have to deal with the more intimate town hall format of today's debate, which often inhibits political attacks as the candidates focus on connecting with the voters asking the questions.

It also offers an element of uncertainty as the candidates cannot predict what the audience of undecided voters might ask, which could range from tax policy to job creation to foreign policy.

"Almost all of the pressure will be on Obama this time, given how poorly he performed in the first debate and how much that seemed to help Romney and change the race," said political scientist Andrew Taylor of North Carolina State University.

The town hall format lets the candidates "talk directly to people and look them in the eye and try to connect, which has not been a strength for either of them," Mr Taylor said. "But you can still make strong points with a velvet glove."

During the first debate, Mr Obama was widely criticised for not challenging Mr Romney on exactly how he plans to give Americans a big tax cut without adding to the deficit, and for not calling attention to the more moderate views Mr Romney appeared to present during the match-up.

A Gallup/USA Today poll published today showed the two had similar favorable ratings from registered voters. But the survey showed Mr Romney ahead of Mr Obama by four percentage points among likely voters in the 12 battleground states.

The Reuters/Ipsos poll that gave Mr Obama an edge showed the number of undecided voters had increased, indicating a drop of support for Mr Romney among the coveted voting bloc.

The online survey of 1,846 likely voters was conducted between October 12th and October 16th. The precision of the poll is measured using a credibility interval, which is plus or minus 2.6 percentage points for likely voters.

For Mr Obama, trying to repair damage from the last debate, the challenge will be to confront Mr Romney on the issues without seeming nasty or too personal.

Mr Romney, a wealthy former private equity executive often accused of failing to connect with ordinary people, would be happy with a steady performance to keep up his momentum.

The economy is expected to be a dominant topic. Mr Obama is able to tout the latest jobs report, which showed that the unemployment rate unexpectedly dropped to 7.8 per cent in September and reached its lowest level since Mr Obama took office.

Mr Romney has countered that the labor market is not healing fast enough.

Glenn Hubbard, one of Mr Romney's top economic advisers, said that the Republican candidate was prepared to question Mr Obama's record on the economy.

"His objective is to continue the conversation with voters about what the right economic policies are for the country," Mr Hubbard said on the sidelines of an economic conference in New York. "He did that really well last time and I'd be stunned if he doesn't do it well tonight."

Since the last debate, both sides have also focused on new lines of attack that are likely to come up today.

Mr Romney was expected to stay on the offensive over the administration's handling of diplomatic security in Libya before the attacks there that killed the US ambassador and three other Americans. The debate comes a day after secretary of state Hillary Clinton assumed responsibility for the lack of security that failed to protect against the deadly attack.

"It's a matter of leadership; it's a matter of straight answers," Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said on MSNBC.

"I just get a feeling that this president hasn't been straight with the American people."

Democrats, hoping to make more inroads with women voters, have hit Mr Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan for their opposition to abortion rights.

The Gallup poll highlighted the importance of women voters, who have traditionally preferred Mr Obama. The poll showed Mr Romney has pulled within one percentage point among likely women voters.

Mr Obama and Mr Romney have taken time off the campaign trail to prepare for the showdown, the second of three presidential debates.

The final one will be next Monday, October 22nd, in Boca Raton, Florida, and will focus on foreign policy issues.


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