1. ITV Report

Wives are out as US presidential race hots up

Ann Romney could boost her husband's campaign with a strong Good Morning America appearance. Photo: Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

This is the week that the understudies in the US presidential election might well take centre stage. On Wednesday Ann Romney co-hosts an hour of America's most watched breakfast show, whilst on Thursday the vice presidential candidates take part in their one and only debate.

The tussle over winning the votes of America's women is a rather lop-sided affair, with the president outperforming his rival by a large margin. One poll last week had Barack Obama 18 points up on Mitt Romney, and others have trended in the same direction. Both candidates are deploying their wives to stump for them but team Romney's decision to expose Ann to the bright lights of an hour of early morning television is a gamble.

ABC's Good Morning America will no doubt boost its already impressive ratings, but whether sitting in the hot seat will give her husband's effort to win the election a lift is less certain. Michelle Obama's also out and about this week - starting with an appearance tomorrow in Virginia - and with approval ratings far above that of her husband is a real asset to his campaign.

The candidates' spouses joined their husbands at the first presidential debate. Credit: Brian Snyder / Reuters

The highlight of the week is likely to be the debate between the two number twos. Vice President Joe Biden and Representative Paul Ryan will meet in a state that otherwise will have see not a single presidential stop: Kentucky. It will vote Republican on November 6, and so neither presidential candidate sees the need to waste time there. This debate is the one exception. The 90 minutes of television exposure pits the verbose Biden against one of the new stars of the Republican movement, whose fiscal plan and conservative views have made him a darling of the right wing. At times Romney has had to remind crowds chanting "Ryan! Romney!" that the ticket actually has Mitt at the top.

Four years ago Biden's head to head with Sarah Palin was watched by more viewers than tuned into last week's first debate of the 2012 election, and Palin was widely regarded as having done a good job in not making any major mistakes. This year Biden will be the one trying not to fall foul of his own words.

The main players have another hectic week as time begins to run out before polling day. Barack Obama is on a swing through California, not trying to get votes but holding fundraisers for his challenge. Last week his campaign announced it had raised $181m (£112m) in September, a figure likely to be higher than his rival, whose team has downplayed the importance of cash in the race. But American viewers can expect to see an onslaught of television ads in the weeks to come, targetting those voters who have yet to make up their minds, and costing the campaigns tens of millions of dollars.

Obama running mate Joe Biden faced off against Sarah Palin four years ago. Credit: Jim Young / Reuters

Mitt Romney's week begins with a "major" speech in Virginia on foreign policy. It's an area of policy in which he has trailed the president, but recent events in Libya have led to some shifting in that dynamic. Expect to hear harsh criticism of the policy of the last four years, indicated by this quote from the Romney campaign on Sunday: "In every region of the world - and particularly in the Middle East - American influence has been weakened by President Obama's failed foreign policy. American security and the cause of freedom cannot afford four more years like the last four years." Romney will lay out a number of global issues where his campaign hopes to draw "great contrast" with President Obama, in particular on Libya, Syria and Egypt.

Romney's punching hard and still on a high following his impressive performance in last week's debate. The polls are beginning to reflect the outcome of that first showdown, with the Republican closing the gap nationally and pulling ahead in some key states. The second presidential debate next week is looking increasingly crucial, and this time Obama has to come out fighting if he's not to see his time as the 44th leader of the United States cut short.