Now that Mitt Romney has pulled ahead or is within striking distance in virtually every swing state, the town hall debate tonight may become the most important event in President Obama's political career, according to political analysts.
Unless President Obama turns the tide back tonight, analysts say Romney is poised to continue a surge in the swing states that began as a result of his performance in the first debate.
Even Ezra Klein, one of the most articulate progressive bloggers in The Washington Post, asserts today, "Joe Biden did his job Thursday. But in the end, winning the election is up to the presidential candidate, not the vice presidential candidate."
"Democrats are clearly worried and need a knockout performance from Obama tonight to steady the ranks," Klein wrote in Tuesday's Washington Post.
"At this point, Romney and Obama are running almost perfectly opposite campaigns. Romney can tell you exactly what he wants to do, but barely a word about how he'll do it. Obama can't describe what he wants to achieve, but he can tell you everything about how he'll get it done. It's a campaign without real policies against a campaign lacking a clear vision."
According to a USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday, Romney has leapt to a five-point lead over President Obama in 12 battleground states that will undoubtedly decide the election. Romney has 51 percent of likely voters in the poll compared to 46 for Obama.
More importantly, Romney has increased his support among likely female voters, pulling even with the president at 48 percent.
States that are deemed "battleground" states are Michigan, Florida, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Iowa, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire.
Another indication of growing support comes in the form of cash. The Romney campaign reported on Monday that it raised $170 million in September alongside a host of related Republican committees including the Republican National Committee.
What's interesting is that there is no shortage of progressive columnists and bloggers who side with Klein on why Obama needs to set forth a clear agenda to move the needle back to his side in the remaining 21 days of the election.
"I don't presume to know why the president wasn't sufficiently for himself in the first debate – why he didn't have even a decent closing statement," wrote columnist Harold Myerson, another Obama supporter, in a Monday column. "I do know that he suffers from a fundamental asymmetry between the two campaigns: Romney has an agenda for the next four years, however dangerous (repealing Dodd-Frank, turning Medicare into vouchers) or impossible (cutting taxes, raising military spending and reducing the deficit) it may be. Obama has largely declined to put forth an agenda, presumably on the theory that running against Romney's platform would have lower risk and higher reward."
Meanwhile, Romney's most trusted advisers – namely his wife Ann and sons – are giving him advice no high-powered political strategist has been effective in offering, and that is the "let Mitt be Mitt" strategy. In other words, "let America get to know the same Mitt Romney we know and love."
If, however, Romney cannot continue to project his personable side in a town hall setting of undecided voters, then President Obama has an opening to turn the tide.
Yet the town hall strategy could present challenges for both candidates.
"I think the most difficult thinking is to pivot from the questioner, the regular voter, to trying to land a punch on the other side," Richard Wolffe, MSNBC.com executive director, told Politico.
"The difficulty for the candidates is going to be about pivoting from, 'Yes, I understand your concerns about China and my opponent really ought to be doing more,' to flip from that to 'my opponent is failing' is hard … And if you try too hard, you end up with Al Gore walking into George Bush's face. There is a real temptation to overdo it."
Tuesday night's debate will take place in Hempstead, N.Y., at Hofstra University beginning at 9:00 p.m. ET and will last 90 minutes. CNN's Candy Crowley will be the moderator.