Mitt Romney performance raises stakes at Hofstra debate

WASHINGTON -- The stakes for the second presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead just got higher, analysts said Thursday.

Mitt Romney's aggressive but poised performance in the first debate in Denver on Wednesday night revived his presidential campaign and gave him new momentum against President Barack Obama, who appeared to be flat, defensive and, at times, lackluster.

"This opened the door for Romney to get back in this race, and evened things up," said Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia pollster and strategist for Republicans.


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That has created a new dynamic for Obama and Romney when they face off in the second debate in a town hall setting at Hofstra on Tuesday, Oct. 16, just three weeks before the Nov. 6 election.

"The pressure is really on both of them," Dawidziak said. "Romney has to repeat and Obama has to do better."

Obama adviser David Axelrod, who Thursday acknowledged that Romney turned in a better performance, said the president will adjust for the next debate. "I know that President Obama is very much looking forward to seeing Gov. Romney again," Axelrod said. "He's gotten a good look at the Romney routine and now we'll have another engagement and I think it will be really interesting."

Coming into the Denver debate, most of the pressure was on Romney. Polls on Wednesday showed Obama with an average national lead over Romney of 3 percentage points and a lead in all eight of the key swing states.

Polls found most thought Obama would win the debate. But after the free-flowing, 90-minute event, a CNN poll found that 67 percent thought Romney won, and just 25 percent said Obama won.

Now the expectations for the next debate have been raised for Romney, but have been just slightly lowered for Obama because the president is considered better at connecting with people in a town hall format.

"The town hall meeting will be the only time that the two candidates engage together with potential voters," Hofstra presidential scholar Meena Bose said. "How they interact and respond will be as important as what they say."

Romney, however, showed in Denver that he made an effort to improve his debating and speaking skills. He's known for weeks he has a town hall-style debate coming up, giving him time to prep for it.

Romney also has a narrower path to winning the electoral votes needed to claim the presidency, giving him a smaller margin of error than Obama.

"Over the next 35 days when the race is tightening in this way, and seemingly leaning toward the president as polls suggest, everything is a must-win for Romney," Bose said.

The outcome of the first presidential debate also has heightened interest in the vice presidential debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Romney running mate Paul Ryan next Thursday at Centre College in Danville, Ky.

The third presidential debate, on foreign policy, will be Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla.

Meanwhile, the first presidential debate also will put greater pressure on future moderators after the weak performance of Jim Lehrer of PBS.

CNN political reporter and anchor Candy Crowley, who will moderate the Hofstra debate, will have to assert herself after Romney and Obama talked over Lehrer repeatedly, analysts said.

CBS News veteran Bob Schieffer, host of the Sunday news show "Face the Nation," is to moderate the third debate.

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