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Will Obama challenge Romney in their second debate?

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney used the first debate to turn his campaign around, while President Barack Obama lost ground. Tuesday night's debate, the second of three, will provide Obama with the opportunity for a rematch. 

By John WhitesidesReuters / October 16, 2012

U.S. President Barack Obama arrives at New York's JFK Airport, en route to the second presidential debate against Mitt Romney.

REUTERS/Jason Reed

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HEMPSTEAD, N.Y.

President Barack Obama's camp promised that the American public would see a more energized candidate on Tuesday night as Obama tries to keep Republican challenger Mitt Romney at bay in a high-stakes debate three weeks before Election Day.

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Romney's campaign got a much-needed shot in the arm two weeks ago when he came out swinging in the first matchup between the two candidates, while Obama was widely criticized, including by his own supporters, for his passive response.

The strong debate performance helped Romney reverse his slide in the polls, and recent surveys put the race for the White House at a virtual dead heat just three weeks ahead of the Nov. 6 election.

Obama seems to have stemmed the bleeding though. In a Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll on Tuesday, he gained a bit more ground on Romney for the third straight day, leading 46 percent to 43 percent.

But a Gallup/USA Today poll also published on Tuesday showed Romney ahead of Obama by 4 percentage points among likely voters in the 12 battleground states.

Obama aides predicted a stronger showing in the second debate for the president, who has been in intense debate preparation for days, even cramming in an hour of homework as late as Tuesday afternoon.

"I think you'll see somebody who will be strong, who will be passionate, who will be energetic, who will talk about ... not just the last four years but what the agenda is for the future and how we continue to move ... our economy forward," Obama's senior campaign adviser, Robert Gibbs, said on MSNBC.

Romney also did some last-minute mock debate work, with Ohio Senator Rob Portman playing Obama.

The actual debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York begins at 9 p.m. (0100 GMT Wednesday) and will last for 90 minutes. The audience of about 80 people was picked by the Gallup polling firm for being undecided local voters from New York state's Nassau County.

Format could be tricky 

Obama and Romney will have to deal with the more intimate town-hall format of this debate, which often inhibits political attacks as the candidates focus on connecting with the voters asking the questions.

Obama supporters panned their candidate for being too timid in the last encounter, but Romney aide Kevin Madden said it wasn't the Democrat's manner that was the issue.

"I think the problem didn't have anything to do with politeness. The problem is he doesn't have a record to run on," Madden told CNN.

Tuesday night carries an element of uncertainty as the candidates cannot predict the questions the audience of undecided voters might pose, which could range from tax policy to job creation to foreign policy.

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