Debate No. 1: Do or die?

I’m having trouble remembering when a presidential campaign face-off generated as much pre-event buzz as the Wednesday encounter between President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

I was a bit young to recall the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debate, although I do remember it vaguely as a not-quite-11-year-old. The next debate occurred in 1976 and we’ve had them every election year since.

They’ve all produced sound bite legacies. There’ve been a vice-presidential debate or two worthy of the history books. But the expectations for this latest one are a bit different, perhaps owing to the apparent closeness of the contest between an incumbent Democratic president and his Republican challenger.

My take on it is this: Romney might be able to wipe much of his recent stumble-bum record with a solid performance. He doesn’t need to hit it out of the park; he just needs to avoid the kind of careless utterances that give the president an opening – although the POTUS has plenty of ammunition in his arsenal already to fire at Mitt.

Yes, Romney has his own cache of weapons to fire at Obama. The issue for Romney, though, will be whether he can make them stick against a very nimble and quick-thinking opponent. Romney, nice fellow he he seems to be, has provided ample evidence that he isn’t nearly as quick on his feet as the president.

Is nimble-mindedness alone a reason to elect someone Leader of the Free World? No. But this trait does provide a gauge as to whether someone can negotiate clearly with friends and foes around the world and can articulate a cogent policy. I see Romney’s challenge in that regard as steeper than the one facing the president.

This first encounter has the potential of bringing Romney back into the game (which appears to be slipping away from him). It also could seal the deal for Obama, no matter what happens in either of the two remaining debates.

And what if it’s a tie? Think of it as a championship boxing match. The champ keeps his title in the event of a draw … yes?