Ignore all of the ads on TV and headlines in the news from the past year: the presidential race won’t start until 8 pm on Wednesday, Oct. 3 when President Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney meet for their first debate.

Now that the primaries are over and the field has narrowed to two candidates (I’m sure Jill Stein and Gary Johnson will disagree), most Americans are finally starting to weigh their options and take sides with one candidate or the other.

As it stands, Obama leads Mitt Romney in the polls, and unlike the Republican primaries from earlier this year, Romney is widely considered to be the underdog. While he proved to be a strong debater as the frontrunner earlier this year, Romney must now go on the offensive for a strong debate performance. Obama, on the other hand, will be debating for the first time since 2008 against an opponent who has sparred in over a dozen debates in the past calendar year alone.

While Democrats will boast that Obama currently leads Romney in both national polls, and in swing states, Republicans are quick to point out that no president has been reelected with such high unemployment rates since the Great Depression, and that millions of Americans remain out of work.

Numbers aside, this, however, is still anyone’s race-which is why the debates will be so important come Election Day.

Candidates customarily downplay their expectations heading into debates, according to Politico. Politico reported that Obama believes his debate skills are “just okay,” while on CNN’s State of the Union Republican John McCain commented, “sometimes we expect a major breakthrough, but that doesn’t happen very often.”

However, I’m going to take sides with New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, who told CBS’s Face the Nation that “this race is going to be turned upside down come Thursday morning.” Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Christie is known to make bold statements, and his comments were certainly meant to boost expectations for Mitt Romney, but unlike other politicians, Christie said what no one else will say: these debates will play a huge role in determining who will be sworn into office as President in January.

According to Real Clear Politics, a website that aggregates polling data, since Mitt Romney secured the GOP nomination on May 29, the number of undecided voters has shrunk from 10.8 percent to a meager 5.3 percent today, meaning that those in the middle have already begun to take sides ahead of November. 

Although most Americans have already settled on a candidate, there is still room for each nominee to snag the remaining undecided voters, and these upcoming debates will be the biggest factor in the swing votes. A sharp one-liner or eloquently stated plan could easily tip the scales toward either candidate. While both campaigns may be downplaying their prospects, all signs are pointing toward an exciting Presidential debate.

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