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Candidates square off in first presidential debate

With polls showing President Obama leading in crucial swing states, Wednesday's debate has become even more important for Mitt Romney. NBC's Peter Alexander reports.

 

DENVER – Most of the American political universe descended Wednesday on the University of Denver’s campus for the highly-anticipated opening debate between President Barack Obama and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

Both candidates will meet onstage shortly after 9 p.m. ET. for a culminating moment in the 2012 presidential election. Tonight’s debate, the first of three between Obama and Romney, offer both men an opportunity to shake up the campaign in the winnowing days before Election Day.

Romney spent much of the day holed up in his hotel resting and preparing for the debate. Both he and Obama toured the debate site this afternoon; the president traveled to Denver this afternoon from Henderson, Nev., where he spent the earlier part of this week practicing.

Obama enters the debate with a slight advantage over Romney, both nationwide and in key swing states, according to the latest NBC News-Wall Street Journal polls. That raises the pressure for Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, to make up ground versus Obama tonight.

The debate, which is moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS, features an open-ended format set to maximize the direct sparring between Obama and Romney. The focus of Wednesday’s debate is domestic policy, though the recent outbreak of violence – particularly in Libya – could mean that foreign policy is also featured in tonight’s showdown.

NBC's Chuck Todd examines strategies to be employed by the Obama and Romney campaigns in the first of three debates that will help determine the presidential election.