by Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- This year could mark the third time in U.S. history that a presidential election's outcome is determined by debates, experts said Tuesday.
It all depends on whether Republican challenger Mitt Romney can maintain the momentum he created earlier this month in Denver, Colorado at the first of three debates against U.S. President Barack Obama, and go on to win the elections in November.
If so, the victory would serve as the final episode in a historical trilogy, the first chapter being in 1960 when former President John F. Kennedy beat Richard Nixon and the second in 2000 when former President George W. Bush won the debates against then Vice President Al Gore.
"If Romney wins, it's going to be because of the Denver debate, " said Republican strategist Ford O'Connell, referring to the initial spark that caused the challenger surge ahead in nationwide polls.
Indeed, prior to that initial contest, Romney had been getting pummeled by White House attack ads and seemed unable to come back swinging. Donors had begun to doubt the former Massachusetts governor's ability to ramp up his game, and some U.S. media reported that Romney's financial supporters were considering backing away from him.
But Romney brought his A game to the first contest while the president brought his C game. And while Obama won the second and third debates on points, many Americans got their first up-close look at the challenger, who did not resemble the capitalist ogre portrayed in team Obama's myriad attack ads, analysts said.
"The first debate was a game-changer because (Romney's) campaign was lacking heading into that debate," said O'Connell. " Now clearly he has the momentum on his side, but will it be enough to close the deal?"
That will remain unknown until the ballots are cast and counted, he added.
UNEXPECTED STRATEGY FOR THIRD DEBATE
Monday night's final debate, which focused on foreign policy, surprised many, as Romney's strategy was to avoid casting himself as a warmonger in a war-weary nation, while presenting himself as a viable choice for commander-in-chief.
He agreed with Obama on a number of points, choosing not to be overly combative. He chose to let slide the controversy over the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, who were killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate on Sept. 11 in Benghazi, Libya.
The Obama administration first described the attack as being a result of a retaliation by Islamic militants against a U.S.-made anti-Islamic movie, before it came out later that it was a planned assault by terrorists.
While Romney jumped on the issue in the second debate, stumbling and stammering as he did so, he declined to pick it up in Monday night's final face-off.
"Romney has seen that there is very little movement in the polls from that issue," said Dan Mahaffee, an analyst with the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress.
With that lack of political impact, an ongoing investigation, and push back from the families of those killed in Benghazi, Romney likely heeded advice to stay away from the Libya issue, Mahaffee added.
On Tuesday, Romney led by a razor-thin margin of 0.6 points in Real Clear Politics'nationwide average of polls.
Still, there is a stalemate in swing states such as Ohio, Colorado, Florida and Nevada, and both candidates plan to set down in those states immediately following the final debate in a bid to win the 270 electoral votes needed to clinch the election.