Until about three weeks ago, most Amer­i­cans had never seen Mitt Romney and Barack Obama in a room together. That’s what made the prospect of their debates so exciting: After months of pos­turing, spin­ning, and sniping from afar, the two rivals would finally go toe-​​to-​​toe, step­ping into the ring without a pro­tec­tive shield of advisers.

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