Will the Presidential Debates Change Your Vote?
As for predictions, take your pick.
"President Obama has the tougher job it seems to me," said DePauw's McCall. "It will be hard to discuss current economic conditions by trying to get warm and fuzzy like in 2008. Romney just has to hold his own."
"I think Obama will clearly win because he is in a position to leverage his advantage of being a superior orator," said Bruce Newman, professor of marketing at DePaul University. "He has a command of facts that will help him talk circles around Romney."
And for gaffes of the "car wreck" type or memorable one liners, those may be few and far between, said Regent University's Dunn, who has worked in several GOP governmental posts.
"In the short run the "47 percent" dust up puts President Obama on offense and Governor Romney on defense, which at the moment could benefit the president in the debates," said Dunn. "But both men are reserved and not likely to make an oral miscue. They are articulate in their own ways. I think there'll be less chance for either of them to make a mistake."
At least one analyst says forget the top ticket contest — and that the vice presidential debate on Oct. 11 in Danville, Ky., between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan will have more impact come November.
"Since the polling is pretty much at a dead heat, the presidential debates might not move people, where the VP debate might," said James Peterson of Lehigh University. "Undecided and independents will wonder about the liabilities of Biden and the factual misstatements of Ryan."
In the end, said Christopher Whitt, an assistant professor of political science at Augustana College, what Americans want out of the debates is for their guy to come out on top, no matter how he, or she, gets there.
"Americans love competition and they love a winner," Whitt said. "It's hard for them to remain enthusiastic about someone who loses in face-to-face showdowns with their opponents no matter how staged or disconnected they may be from the job they're trying to win."