WASHINGTON - If Mitt Romney is going to change the trajectory of a close race that is bending in President Obama's direction, his best opportunity will be during 90 minutes on a Denver stage Wednesday night.
Obama has opened a modest advantage over Romney since the political conventions ended last month, especially in the battleground states. But as the presidential rivals prepare to face off in the first of three debates, a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll shows Obama with vulnerabilities and Romney with assets - even on the question of whether Americans have become too dependent on the government.
The question: Can the Republican challenger seize on those openings? If he fails - and he admittedly has struggled since clinching the GOP nomination in the spring - his path to victory over the final four weeks of the campaign becomes much steeper.
"The vast majority of viewers tune in to these debates to cheer their candidate on; they've made their decision and want that decision confirmed," says Mitchell McKinney, an associate professor at the University of Missouri who studies presidential debates and political communication. But there also will be viewers who are only "weakly committed" to a candidate "and still need some persuading."
Almost eight in 10 Americans in the USA TODAY poll say there's nothing either candidate could say or do in the debates that would change their minds about their vote. Still, one of five say the debates could sway them - including 24% of Obama supporters and 18% of Romney supporters.
To read the full USA Today article click here.