“There are a lot of points I want to make tonight, but the most important one is that 20 years ago I became the luckiest man on earth because Michelle agreed to marry me and so I just want to wish, sweetie, you a happy anniversary and let you know that a year from now we will not be celebrating it in front of 40 million people.”

Talk about smooth. Americans aren’t quite as smitten as Michelle Obama, but Barack is riding high in the polls with a charm offensive that’s hard to match.

That was Mitt Romney’s challenge today, as he met the President in the first of a series of crucial debates during frenzied campaigning ahead of the November 6 election. He might be smart. He might have the right ideas. But is he as smooth? A tracking poll from Reuters/Ipsos shows just how much ground the Republican has to make up in the charm stakes:

Who would Americans most like to hang out with? Both men and women prefer the President (48%/47%) over Romney (21%/19%) by a big margin when asked who is “more fun”. And in gloomy economic times the man who brings the fun may just win the White House.

Commentators will be impressed with Romney’s performance today in the wrap-up, offering a more lively alternative to Obama who seemed off his game. Maybe Mitt is more likeable than we thought …

*Guy Rundle is in Denver and will file his analysis from the debate on the Crikey website later today