Mitt Romney, we keep hearing, faces a do-or-die 90-minute test when he joins Barack Obama on-stage tonight. After all, he’s trailed the president in polling all year, save for a few days around the Republican convention when he managed to pull into a statistical tie, and time is running short.
But the Denver debate holds at least the potential to function as one big reset button for Romney. A command performance, aided by an underwhelming presentation by Obama, could lift his poll numbers, alter the Romney-as-inevitable loser media narrative that’s taken hold, and generally wipe away much of the misery that defined his September.
They won’t say it loudly, but Romney’s team is hoping to replicate what John Kerry did at the end of September 2004, when he won rave reviews for his debate performance and almost overnight closed most of what had been a six-to-eight point gap against George W. Bush. Kerry, obviously, didn’t go on to win on Election Day, but that debate altered the way the media – and his own party – treated his candidacy and gave him a fighting shot.
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