* Chance to reach more than 60 million people

* Romney needs win to rejuvenate campaign

* Voters like Obama, but concerned about his performance

By Steve Holland

DENVER, Oct 3 (Reuters) - Republican candidate Mitt Romney is under pressure to produce a strong performance on Wednesday at his first face-to-face debate with President Barack Obama to try to turn around a race for the White House that has been edging away from him.

The 90-minute encounter offers the chance to reach more than 60 million people on television, a far greater audience than watched either candidate speak at the Democratic and Republican conventions.

While that has potential dividends in attracting undecided voters, there is also the risk that one or the other will make a major mistake that can overshadow the campaign in the last five weeks before the Nov. 6 election.

Running behind in the polls, Romney is more in need of a victory than Obama at the University of Denver debate, the first of three such face-offs scheduled in the next four weeks.

"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."

The Republican was damaged by a secretly taped video from a private fundraiser in which he said 47 percent of voters are dependent on government and unlikely to support him. It was only one of several recent stumbles by the former Massachusetts governor in his second presidential bid.

At the Denver debate, Romney needs not only to repair some of the damage from the video. He must raise questions about Obama's handling of the U.S. economy and explain how his own plan would create more jobs and cut the budget deficit.

Romney must get through the debate without losing his cool and without appearing to be disrespectful to Obama, who many Americans like personally despite his struggle to create jobs. And the often robotic Republican could do with showing some personality to make voters feel more comfortable with him.

"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. "They're leaning toward the devil they know, which is President Obama. Romney has to knock it out of the park by showing the contrast between himself and Obama."


ECONOMIC CHALLENGES FOR OBAMA

The Democrat has the challenge of answering why Americans should consider themselves better off now than they were four years ago, a key measure in every presidential election. He needs to explain what he would do to rekindle job creation in a second term.

The U.S. jobless rate has been above 8 percent for 43 straight months and is the top priority of voters. The Obama camp argues he inherited a tough economy from Republican predecessor George W. Bush. Many voters seem willing to cede him that point but nonetheless are looking for a clear way out of the economic doldrums.

"He's got to reassure people who like him that it's OK to vote for him again," said Yepsen. "I think Americans like the man; they're a little bit concerned about the job he's done. And he's got to bring them back home."

Obama is considered far more likable than Romney and leads him on many attributes in opinion polls. He has the edge over Romney in many battleground states such as Ohio where the election will be decided.

So far, Obama has offered little in the way of a second-term governing agenda beyond more of the same policies, amid rising debt, budget deficits and increasingly expensive entitlement programs. His first term has been marked by fierce partisan battles that have frozen Washington into political gridlock.

Obama's campaign has cast Romney as a wealthy elitist who is out of touch with the plight of everyday Americans.

Body language will be closely watched to see if Obama can fight a tendency to be condescending and professorial and whether Romney can resist arguing about the debate rules or who gets the most time to speak, as he did during Republican primary debates.

Both men found some late news that could help them make their cases at the debate, which will be moderated by Jim Lehrer of PBS and starts at 9 p.m. Eastern time (0100 GMT).

The Obama camp seized on a New York Times article that said Romney had benefited financially on his offshore holdings. The Obama campaign charged that Romney had "failed to come clean with the American people."

A comment from Vice President Joe Biden gave the Romney campaign an opportunity. Biden accused Romney of seeking to raise taxes on America's middle class, which he said "has been buried the last four years."

"Of course the middle class has been buried," said Romney's vice presidential running mate, Paul Ryan. "They're being buried by regulations; they're being buried by taxes; they're being buried by borrowing. They're being buried by the Obama administration's economic failures."

Experts are not necessarily in agreement on whether debates can serve as a turning point in a presidential election.

But history shows there are plenty of cases where they have cast some candidates in a negative light, from Al Gore's heavy sighs and eye-rolling during a 2000 debate with George W. Bush to Richard Nixon's profuse sweating during his encounters with John F. Kennedy in 1960.

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  • 'The Stumble'

    Texas Governor Rick Perry's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/09/rick-pery-forgets-federal-agencies_n_1085312.html" target="_hplink">inability to remember</a> the third agency he would cut as president had many predicting the untimely end of his campaign for president. Perry addressed his mental lapse before reporters after the debate, admitting, "Yeah I stepped in it man. Yeah it was embarrassing. Of course it was."

  • Romney's '$10,000 Bet'

    During a GOP primary debate in late 2011, Romney sought to put an end to then-presidential candidate Rick Perry's insistance that Romneycare was the basis of President Barack Obama's health care reform law. Perry launched in with an attack that he'd repeated before: "I'm just saying, you're for individual mandates, my friend," Perry said. "You've raised that before, Rick, and you're simply wrong," Romney responded, extending his hand toward Perry. "Rick, I'll tell you what: 10,000 bucks? $10,000 bet?" Perry declined, nothing that he wasn't a betting man, leaving Romney to quote a chapter from his book that he cited as proof he had never intended for his health care plan to be used as a national model.

  • Bachmann On Libya, Africa

    At a GOP primary debate in October of 2011, Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/18/michele-bachmann-libya-africa_n_1018814.html" target="_hplink">criticized</a> Obama's foreign policy decisions. "Now with the president, he put us in Libya," she said. "He is now putting us in Africa. We already were stretched too thin, and he put our special operations forces in Africa." Libya is, in fact, a country in Africa.

  • Awkward Silence

    During a 2010 gubernatorial debate, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/02/jan-brewer-starts-badly-f_n_703559.html" target="_hplink">struggled to name</a> any of her accomplishments while introducing herself. "We have ... done so much ... We have um, did what was right for Arizona," she squeezed out after a long silent pause.

  • Can't Name Any Supreme Court Cases

    Christine O'Donnell was unable to name a single recent Supreme Court decision she disagreed with, when asked by moderator Nancy Karibjanian during a 2010 Delaware Senate debate. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/10/13/christine-odonnell-stumped-supreme-court-debate_n_762067.html" target="_hplink">The dialogue</a>: <blockquote><strong>KARIBJANIAN</strong>: What opinions, of late, that have come from our high court, do you most object to? <strong>O'DONNELL</strong>: Oh, gosh. Um, give me a specific one. I'm sorry. <strong>KARIBJANIAN</strong>: Actually, I can't, because I need you to tell me which ones you object to. <strong>O'DONNELL</strong>: Um, I'm very sorry, right off the top of my head, I know that there are a lot, but I'll put it up on my website, I promise you.</blockquote>

  • Can I Call You Joe?

    When Sarah Palin and Joe Biden shook hands at the start of a 2008 vice presidential debate, Palin asked then then-Senator "Hey, Can I call you Joe?" "You can call me Joe," Biden replied. Palin <a href="http://www.politico.com/blogs/bensmith/0110/Two_versions_of_Can_I_call_you_Joe.html" target="_hplink">evidently kept confusing</a> then-Senator Joe Biden's last name with President Barack Obama's, referring to the VP candidate repeatedly as "O'Biden" in debate prep. Her staffers suggested she call him by his first name.

  • Change You Can Xerox

    Hilary Clinton's attempt at a jab toward President Barack Obama got her booed by the audience during a 2008 presidential debate. Clinton accused Obama of plagiarism in his popular speeches, saying "Lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in, it's change you can Xerox."

  • 'Likable Enough'

    During a Democratic presidential primary debate in early 2008, then-candidate Hillary Clinton was being pressed on surveys that suggested New Hampshire voters appreciated her resume, but found then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) more likable. Clinton appeared to feign insult, drawing sympathetic applause and smiles from the crowd. "Well, that hurts my feelings," she said. "But I'll try to go on. "He's very likable," Clinton continued of Obama. "I agree with that. I don't think I'm that bad." Obama took a brief break from scribbling notes to weigh in. "You're likable enough, Hillary," Obama said tersely, not making eye contact with Clinton. He then returned to his notepad.

  • Al Gore's Sighing

    A 2000 presidential debate seriously hurt Al Gore's campaign when the cutaway shots caught him rolling his eyes and sighing audibly during George W. Bush's answers. Critics say behavior made Gore look elitist and unlikable in contrast with Bush's relaxed and folksy demeanor. Jon Stewart mocks Gore's sighs in The Daily Show clip above.

  • Let Me Finish

    Ross Perot may go down in history for his repeated interruptions of "let me finish" during a 1992 presidential debate. The behavior became fodder for SNL comedian Dana Carvey's Perot impression.

  • Glancing At His Watch

    George H. W. Bush was caught glancing at his watch during a 1992 presidential debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot. The now-famous move damaged Bush's campaign, making him look bored and impatient, <a href="http://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2008/01/17/a-damaging-impatience" target="_hplink">reports say</a>. Bush snuck at peek at his watch again during his daughter-in-law Laura Bush's speech at the Republican convention in 2008.

  • Who Am I? Why Am I Here?

    When Independent Presidential candidate Ross Perot picked Vietnam War hero Admiral James Stockdale for his VP nominee, it created a rare three-person Vice Presidential debate in 1992. Stockdale was not a politician and not very well known. Attempting to introduce itself and poke some fun at this, he chose as his opening statement: "Who am I? Why am I here?" Stockdale later said he hoped to follow up the remarks with an explanation of his life, but never got to that point. Instead, the line left viewers wondering the same thing.

  • Dispassionate Death Penalty Response

    When the moderator of a 1988 presidential debate asked Governor Michael Dukakis if he would support the death penalty if his wife, Kitty Dukakis, was raped and murdered, Dukakis dispassionately responded, "No, I don't, Bernard, and I think you know that I've opposed the death penalty during all of my life." He then continued to talk about his stance. Some believe the lack of emotion or passion for the hypothetical situation cost Dukakis the election.

  • You're No Jack Kennedy

    In the 1988 Vice Presidential debate between Democratic VP candidate Senator Lloyd Bentsen and Republican VP candidate Senator Dan Quayle, Quayle was asked if his qualifications were sufficient to inherit the presidency, should it come to that. Quayle responded by comparing his experience level Jack Kennedy's experience level when he sought the presidency. The comparison prompted Bensten to say: "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." Quayle responded, "That was really uncalled for Senator."

  • No Soviet Domination

    In the 1976 presidential debate between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford, Ford famously stated "There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe." The remark came in response to a question about U.S. relations with the Soviet Union, a major concern in the Cold War era, and didn't sit well with an increasingly anti-Soviet public. Ford refused to back down from the claim even after the somewhat baffled debate moderator responded, "I'm sorry, what? ... Did I understand you to say, sir, that the Russians are not using Eastern Europe as their own sphere of influence in occupying most of the countries there and making sure with their troops that it's a communist zone?"

  • Sickly Nixon vs. Fit JFK

    The 1960 presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon was the first nationally televised debate in the U.S. and <a href="http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,2021078,00.html" target="_hplink">is thought to have</a> changed politics forever. The debate was historically declared a win for Kennedy by those who watched it on TV, and a win for Nixon for those who listened to it on the radio. Though the candidates were both strong on the issues, the visibly sweating Nixon looked sickly and pale compared to the young and fit Kennedy.