Denver debate between Obama and Romney about perceptions more than issues

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The first presidential debate between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney is Wednesday night in Denver.

Political commentators say Romney has the most to win -- or lose -- in the debates. But the issues at hand may not be the only thing voters are watching.

The public will watch to learn more about where each candidate stands on issues. But, as in most elections, people are also watching for memorable one-liners and gaffes. And according to recent polls, many voters say their vote won't change after a debate.

A USA Today poll found almost eight in 10 Americans said there is nothing either candidate could say or do in the debates that would change their minds. A recent Gallup poll showed debates have only made a substantial difference twice – in 1960 and again in 2000.

In 1960, Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy participated in the first televised presidential debate. Kennedy chose to wear makeup, and viewers said he appeared energetic and smooth.

"Nixon did well, but people who listened to the debate on the radio thought Nixon got the best of the debate," said Dr. Charles Moran, a Rockhurst University political science professor. "But people who watched thought Kennedy on TV did better."

It was the first time candidates had to have command of the issues but also be telegenic.

Then-Vice President Al Gore fought an image of being stiff and condescending in the 2000 debate. He even approached George W. Bush in one debate, a move Moran said was a mistake.

"People didn't like that very much," he said, adding that it was too aggressive for voters.

Voters could also hear Gore sigh heavily into the microphone during Bush's responses.

Moran believes image will matter during Wednesday night's debate.

"(Romney) has to convey he understands what tough times these are for people," he explained.

In contrast, Moran said Obama could lose ground if he appears rattled in comparison to Romney.

The 90 minute debate starts on your 41 Action News Channel and on kshb.com tonight at 8 p.m.

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