by Ray Fleming

T onight's TV debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney may well determine the outcome of the presidential election on November 6. At the weekend the most reliable poll-of-polls showed Romney with 47.3 percent support against Obama's 46 per cent -- a turn-round from Obama's earlier five point lead almost wholly attributable to his dismal performance at the first debate. Can he claw back what he lost in those first ninety minutes? It's a tall order especially since tonight's encounter will be a town hall meeting at which undecided voters selected by the Gallup organisation put questions on both domestic and international issues. The candidates will have two minutes to answer -- a format which will probably favour Romney's machine-like recital of facts and figures rather than Obama's more reasoning replies that take time to develop. The problem for each contender will be to answer the question while also using it to score points against his opponent.

As voting draws closer it is important to remember that its outcome is decided by the number of electoral college votes won, not the national vote total. The magic figure is 270; current predictions show Obama winning enough states to give him 277 votes while Romney has only 210; but this could change dramatically if the trend to Romney takes a couple of large states from Obama. It's all to play for tonight.