Good morning! The big story today is of course the first presidential debate between President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
The big picture is that this is Romney's opportunity to tighten a race with a little more than a month to go before the Nov. 6 elections.
Jeff Zeleny, of The New York Times, reminds us in his story today that a debate is the moment when the two men are on our equal footing, when the artifice of campaigns — the ads, the surrogates, the stump speeches — melt away.
"For 90 minutes, the rivals will be essentially equal, creating what Mr. Romney's advisers believe is a critical opportunity to make a move in the race," Zeleny writes.
"There will be no rigid time limits, buzzers or cheering that often threatened to turn the Republican primary debates into a recurring political game show. The debate will be divided into six segments of 15 minutes, with ample opportunity for robust exchanges and a level of specificity that both sides have often sought to avoid.
"As Mr. Romney took a lunch break on Tuesday, he told reporters, "I'm getting there," when asked whether he was ready for one of the biggest moments of his campaign. In Nevada, where Mr. Obama practiced for the debate, he went for a quick tour of the Hoover Dam."
The debate — starting at 9 p.m. ET. — will be carried by all the networks. NPR will have live coverage and Mark will be helping out our friends at It's All Politics with a live blog.
With that, we'll leave with you with a round-up of reading material that will leave you well prepared for tonight:
-- The AP reports on the messaging:
"Romney's message: The country can't afford another four years of an Obama administration.
"Obama's message: The country would be worse off without his policies and he needs four more years to finish the job."
-- Politico reports that Obama will continue his use of "triangulation," that is tying Romney's policies to that of President George W. Bush without actually invoking his name.
"If not as directly, Obama is attempting to put a Bush mask on Romney in exactly the same fashion as he did with devastating success to John McCain four years ago," Politico reports. "It's not as blunt as FDR still running against Hooverism four years into the New Deal, but the bloody-shirt waving has served to remind voters of the recent Republican unpleasantness — and left conservatives confounded that their nominee not only hasn't rebutted the charge but also isn't attempting to turn the tables and run against both recent presidents."
-- Reuters reports that Romney needs a victory:
"'I think he's got to have a pretty convincing win,' said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. 'He's had a bad few weeks and he needs to change the narrative of the campaign.'"
-- CBS News talked to one analyst who thinks the debate isn't do-or-die.
"Romney doesn't need to try to win the election [tonight]," Dan Schnur, a former Republican strategist now at the University of Southern California, told CBS. "There are never magical transformational moments in a presidential debate that's going to fundamentally remake the race. But for a challenger, being on the stage toe-to-toe with an incumbent is an important opportunity to prove that you can be trusted with the responsibilities of the presidency."