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US presidential candidates set for showdown

Obama and Romney are to go head-to-head on the economy in the first election run-up debate between the rivals. The world is watching Mitt Romney, who may need to 'win' the showdown more than Obama.

The Republican candidate in the US presidential elections, Mitt Romney, is under pressure to perform at his first face-to-face debate with incumbent Barack Obama, which is to be held later on Wednesday.

Romney will participate in a televised duel against America's president in the first of a trio of debates just 33 days before American citizens vote. It is to air at 9 p.m. Eastern time (0100 GMT Thursday).

The 90-minute showdown gives the Republican candidate the opportunity to reach out to up to 60 million people, a figure that dwarfs the potential audience for the previously aired Democratic and Republican conventions.

According to analysts, Romney needs to come out of the debate as the stronger candidate more than Obama requires a clear 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."

Romney has been nursing political wounds since a secretly recorded video of the former Massachusetts governor speaking at a private fundraiser was leaked. At the event, Romney said that 47 percent of voters were reliant on the government and probably would not back him.

Romney's debate checklist

At Wednesday's Denver debate, Romney will need to go beyond seeking to repair any damage to his reputation due to the leaked video, say commentators. He will also need to take Obama to task for his approach to the US economy. Romney is expected to present clear alternative plans on how to resolve America's most pressing economic quandaries: how to create more jobs and how to slash the deficit.

"Americans who are thinking about voting for Romney need to hear from him about how he would change the country for the better," said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean.

The personality that Romney projects will be closely scrutinized as well, including how he deals with Obama, for whom many Americans have a personal liking, sometimes in spite of their doubts about his political capabilities. There is also more pressure on Romney to show more of his personality in order to strengthen his image as a tangibly alternative statesman to Obama.

"Romney has to knock it out of the park by showing the contrast between himself and Obama," said Bonjean.

sej/tj (Reuters, dpa, AFP)