WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama, in a position of strength, is looking to avoid mistakes in his first debate with Mitt Romney. The Republican challenger, trailing in opinion polls, needs to shake up the contest, and Wednesday night's televised encounter may offer his best hope.
Barely one month remains in the campaign, and early voting already is under way in much of the country.
Obama, as the front-running incumbent, has the most to lose from a possible gaffe or flat performance. But Romney has the greater need to make a strong impression and convince Americans they should fire Obama.
Romney's task is difficult. He most show an appealing side to voters who haven't warmed to him, while also criticizing Obama's economic record aggressively.
The former Massachusetts governor, who has sought the presidency for years, might benefit from low expectations. Polls show that most people expect Obama to outperform him at the debate forum.
Obama's communication skills are well-known. But he is best when speaking alone before large audiences. In debates in 2007 and 2008, he tended toward long, professorial answers, and sometimes showed a condescending side. Obama has not debated since then.
Romney participated in 19 Republican primary debates in 2011-12, so in one sense he is well-practiced. But those debates usually involved several candidates vying for short snippets of time. The Wednesday night event in Denver promised to be more focused.
Either Obama or moderator Jim Lehrer seemed likely to press Romney about secretly recorded comments last spring in which he said 47 percent of Americans view themselves as victims who depend on the government and refuse to take responsibility for their lives.
Romney was certain to assail the president on the nation's struggling economy and 8.1 percent unemployment rate.
The two nominees will face each other in two more debates this month. Vice President Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan will hold one debate.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Charles Babington covers national politics for The Associated Press.