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Mitt Romney and Barack Obama: What to look for in upcoming debates

Presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will debate each other three times over the course of the next several weeks — and their running mates, Paul Ryan and Joe Biden, will face off once.

The first presidential debate, slated for Wednesday, is widely viewed as a must-win for Romney.

“There seems to be near-universal consensus that it represents his last, best shot at turning around the race,” Liz Marlantes wrote for the Christian Science Monitor on Wednesday. “Amazingly, it isn't just pundits saying this — but also Romney’s own advisers, who, rather than lowering expectations, have been telling reporters that the debate will, indeed, shake things up, while predicting a win for their candidate.”

The Los Angeles Time reported Wednesday that Obama is “getting less debate practice than Romney.”

“President Obama has blocked out three days to prepare for the October debates, but with the constant pressures that come with one of the world's most important jobs, aides worry he may not get enough practice at the podium,” the L.A. Times article detailed. “The debate retreat, scheduled to start Sunday in Henderson, Nev., … includes time for the daily battery of presidential meetings, leaving room for three afternoon debate sessions — if no crises flare up. Obama has already canceled some debate preparation because of events in the Middle East.”

In an unusual — and perhaps even unprecedented — move, the Commission on Presidential Debates recently released an advance list of topics the candidates will be asked about on Oct. 3.

“What the commission didn't say,” U.S. News & World Report’s Elizabeth Flock wrote last week, “is that this may be the first time in history presidential candidates have been given the topics of a debate ahead of time. … Though specific questions were not given, debate moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS NewsHour announced the topics of the questions on the commission Web site, saying that three questions will be on the economy, one on health care, one on the role of government and one on governing.”

The website 2012 Election Central provides a detailed capsule for each of the four debates. A sampling of that information:

First presidential debate: Oct. 3

Site: Denver, Colo.

Moderator: Jim Lehrer (PBS)

Topic: Domestic policy

Vice presidential debate: Oct. 11

Site: Danville, Ky.

Moderator: Martha Raddatz (ABC)

Topic: Foreign and domestic policy

Second presidential debate: Oct. 16

Site: Hempstead, N.Y.

Moderator: Candy Crowley (CNN)

Topic: Town meeting format, including foreign and domestic policy

Third presidential debate: Oct. 22

Site: BocaRaton, Fla.

Moderator: Bob Schieffer (CBS)

Topic: Foreign policy

J.G. Askar is a graduate of BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School and member of the Utah State Bar. Contact him at or 801-236-6051.