WASHINGTON - Oh, to be a fly on the wall in Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney’s Denver hotel room tonight. And if I were to spy some form of pharmaceutical sleep aid in his suite, I wouldn’t hold it against him one bit.
Tomorrow evening (Thursday morning in Singapore), Mr Romney will face what pundits are calling his "make or break it'' moment, the first of three gruelling debates with President Barack Obama.
The debate held in Denver, Colorado, will probably be the most watched by viewers at home, many of whom will be tuning in to see Mr Romney and Mr Obama battle it out on what matters most to Americans now -- domestic policy, including the economy and jobs, as well as the role of the government.
But the question is whether the substance of what the two men say actually matters at this stage, with only a month to go before election day. After all, the majority of voters have already made up their minds on who to vote for, according to polls. Moreover, a candidate’s performance in the debates has not always guaranteed a win.
According to opinion polls, Democrat John Kerry put in a strong showing against former President George W Bush in the 2004 presidential debates, but still lost the election. Political scientists are of the opinion that the debates have only a marginal effect on voter sentiment.
Still, there is a whole lot at stake for Mr Romney tomorrow night, way more than he may have wanted. But he has only himself and his campaign to blame. There were attempts to humanize Mr Romney and to improve his public persona at the Republican National Convention in August.
His wife and Mormon friends did a laudable job of relating Mr Romney's softer side. But when it came to the candidate himself, not only was his convention speech short on details but performance wise, he stayed true to himself – and wasted a great opportunity to make a real, personal connection with ordinary Americans.
The weeks following the convention have not helped. Gaffes on foreign policy and a leaked video of Mr Romney saying how 47 per cent of American voters believe they are “victims’’ have not improved his image as a cold-hearted rich guy.
The odds are also against him even without stepping onto the debate stage. It seems that registered voters by a margin of two to one think that round one will go easily to Mr Obama.
To even make a dent in the President’s armour in the debate, Mr Romney must forget about trying to show the American people that he is a nice guy who actually really does care about ordinary folk. That boat has sailed. What he must do now is show he has the policy chops to lead. He must lay out substantial plans on improving the economy and jobs.
A debate is not a speech, but Mr Romney must somehow, in between rebutting President Obama’s jabs and being responsive to the moderator, show he has clear policy ideas. And he must present the details clearly and convincingly. There is no room for platitudes and sweeping statements like “we will make America great again’’.
I can only imagine the pressure the candidate and his team are feeling on the eve of the debate.
I've often wondered about the psychology of presidential candidates, or anyone running for high office for that matter. Are they always in it to win it, or are there those who throw their hat into the ring as a means to another end, perhaps an election further down the road, or simply to raise their national profile.
In Mr Romney’s case, I’ve wondered whether it’s a personal legacy issue. His father, George, ran and lost his bid to become the Republican Party’s presidential nominee in 1968. So could this be the case of the son having to surpass the father? As the Republican presidential nominee, Mr Romney has gone one step further than his father, is this enough for him?
I posed this question to a veteran political campaign manager a while back. He laughed and said that he had never, ever, once had a candidate who did not think that he was not going to win. Ambition, perhaps even hubris, drives these people, it gives them super-human confidence.
I, like many other people here, will be tuning in to see if Mr Romney brings that confidence to bear tomorrow night.