Romney Said to Have Most to Gain From Republican Debate

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Now that the Democrats have completed their first presidential debate, it will be the Republicans' turn next Thursday when they convene at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., for their own nationally televised encounter.

And no candidate is looking forward more to the event than former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. For many weeks, Romney's advisers have been predicting that he will score well in the debate--by proving that he is "presidential," is a "true conservative," and has a mastery of the issues as deep and broad as that of anyone in the race. Romney definitely needs a breakthrough. He has been unable to rise above about 10 percent support in polls of Republican voters even though he has raised more money than any other GOP candidate.

"He needs to move the campaign forward," says a Romney strategist, who admits that the candidate has developed a reputation as an opportunist for reversing himself on issues such as abortion and gay rights and for exaggerating his background as a hunter--all supposedly to appeal to the conservative base.

"Once these impressions set in, it's hard to unwind them," says the strategist.

--Kenneth T. Walsh