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2012 U.S. presidential election: debates could be game-changer for third time in U.S. history

By Matthew Rusling (Xinhua)

08:02, October 24, 2012

WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- This year could mark the third time in U.S. history that a presidential election's outcome is determined by debates, experts said Tuesday.

It all depends on whether Republican challenger Mitt Romney can maintain the momentum he created earlier this month in Denver, Colorado at the first of three debates against U.S. President Barack Obama, and go on to win the elections in November.

If so, the victory would serve as the final episode in a historical trilogy, the first chapter being in 1960 when former President John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon and the second in 2000 when former President George W. Bush won the debates against then Vice President Al Gore.

"If Romney wins, it's going to be because of the Denver debate, " said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell, referring to the initial spark that caused the challenger surge ahead in nationwide polls.

Indeed, prior to that initial contest, Romney had been getting pummeled by White House attack ads and seemed unable to come back swinging. Donors had begun to doubt the former Massachusetts governor's ability to ramp up his game, and some U.S. media reported that Romney's financial supporters were considering backing away from him.

But Romney brought his A game to the first contest while the president brought his C game. And while Obama won the second and third debates on points, many Americans got their first up-close look at the challenger, who did not resemble the capitalist ogre portrayed in team Obama's myriad attack ads, analysts said.

"The first debate was a game-changer because (Romney's) campaign was lacking heading into that debate," said O'Connell. " Now clearly he has the momentum on his side, but will it be enough to close the deal?"

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