DENVER -- Round One, which played out on a stage here two weeks ago, clearly went to Mitt Romney, whose performance opposite a flat, unfocused President Obama on the debate stage has turned the race for the White House dramatically in his favor.
Round Two, set to take place in a town hall-style debate at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York, is shaping up to be potentially the most climactic and decisive 90 minutes of the campaign yet.
"Romney would like to get a win Tuesday night, but he'd probably be happy with a draw," political analyst Eric Sondermann told FOX31 Denver. "I think Obama goes in there with much more pressure that he needs to reverse that earlier impression."
Here's a quick reading list to get ready for tonight's showdown:
Politico's Alexander Burns explains why the pressure is squarely on the president's shoulders to close the deal with voters about his own record and agenda for a second term, to perform well enough to stop his slide in the polls before he's overtaken by Romney in the final three weeks of the race.
The Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan writes that Romney needs to reinforce the memory of the Oct. 3 debate in Denver, while Obama, with his own performance, needs to erase it.
"He has to make people forget it," Noonan writes. He has to blur the memory by providing a new memory: Obama engaged, Obama attractive, Obama in the moment, Obama responding with confidence and challenging his opponent. Obama replying with wit, or with soft, sure indignation, to something Romney said that he believes not to be true.
The town hall format, in which people in the audience will directly pose the questions to the candidates, poses risks for both Obama and Romney, according to this report by Michael D. Shear of the New York Times.
"This is a format that seems to advantage a candidate who, in my mind, is comfortable in their own skin," Sondermann said.
Meanwhile, a number of breaking news stories are likely to impact the debate Tuesday night: among them, news of another federally-subsidized new energy company going bankrupt Tuesday should offer additional ammo for Romney; conversely, the Washington Post's takedown of Mitt Romney's promise to create 12 million new jobs -- the newspaper gave it "four pinnochios" -- could be cited by President Obama.
Additionally, Hillary Clinton's decision to accept the blame for the administration's unsteady response to the terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya is likely to inform any discussion of uprisings in the Arab world.
Beyond Tuesday night, both campaigns will move quickly to assess where they'll spend what's left of their money on get-out-the-vote efforts and television ad time.
While the Romney campaign is hoping to compete for states thought to be solidly blue -- Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan -- the Obama campaign is confident it will hold on to those states given their voter registration advantages and that its Ohio firewall will hold.
"We'd still rather be us than them," Obama's national communications director, Jen Psaki, told FOX31 Denver Tuesday afternoon when asked about the fluid electoral map.
The Obama team believes that it still has the edge as long as its Ohio firewall holds, according to a Politico report Tuesday; while Republicans are increasingly optimistic about their chances in the Buckeye State.
"I think Ohio is going to be very close," RNC Communications Director Sean Spicer told FOX31 Denver Tuesday. "We have a tremendous ground game there, our voter contact numbers have been absolutely through the roof, so we feel very good about Ohio."
According to this analysis by ABC News Political Director Amy E. Walter, the race is likely to be decided by Ohio, which no Republican has ever won the White House without.
The Obama campaign won a legal victory Tuesday when the Supreme Court denied an application from Ohio officials to shut down early voting the weekend prior to the election, which the Obama campaign had argued would prevent low-income and elderly voters from casting their ballots.AlertMe