Here's a look at the top five issues left unaddressed so far through the first two presidential debates:
Regardless of the outcome of next month's election, Obama or Romney would almost assuredly encounter a potential fiscal crisis immediately upon being sworn into office.
While the topics of taxes, spending and entitlements were rampant during the first two debates, the so-called "fiscal cliff" looming at the beginning of 2013 presents a far more beguiling challenge for either candidate come January.
The fiscal cliff is a shorthand way of referencing the cocktail of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes set to take effect at the beginning of next year, the by-product of legislative gridlock which economists warn could do serious damage to the recovery.
A troubled housing market and financial crisis related to over-extended mortgages are the root cause of America’s current economic headache, but the topic received scant attention during the first two debates.
Obama took steps at the beginning of his first term meant to support struggling homeowners, and outlined an updated proposal in February -- but neither had much effect. One of Romney’s earliest events during his bid for the Republican nomination, too, was in a neighborhood full of foreclosed homes in Nevada, one of the states hit hardest by the housing collapse.
But neither candidate paid lip service to the full severity of the housing market except as an aside in a larger discussion about the regulations on lenders included in the 2010 Dodd-Frank regulatory reform law.
Obama accused Romney of wishing to repeal that law, which the president asserted would eliminate rules on subprime housing loans.
"Dodd-Frank correctly says we need to have qualified mortgages, and if you give a mortgage that's not qualified, there are big penalties, except they didn't ever go on and define what a qualified mortgage was," Romney responded. "It's been two years. We don't know what a qualified mortgage is yet. So banks are reluctant to make loans, mortgages."
IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN
The winding-down wars in Iraq and Afghanistan received more attention during the lone vice presidential debate than they did during the first two meetings between Romney and Obama. American combat troops have been in Afghanistan since 2001 and in Iraq since 2003, and Obama has begun the process of ending the wars in each country -- something of which he has been quick to remind voters during the debates.
Romney has sought to distinguish himself from Obama on both theaters, focusing his criticism on the pace at which Obama has withdrawn troops from both countries, and Obama’s decision to set timelines by which American combat troops would leave both Iraq and Afghanistan.
"America’s ability to influence events for the better in Iraq has been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence,” Romney said earlier this month at a foreign policy speech.
On Afghanistan, Romney has also sought to paint stark differences between himself and Obama by arguing that Obama prematurely drew down “surge” troops from Afghanistan earlier this fall. Romney said he would have kept them there a few months longer, through the height of the fighting season.
Still, both Obama and Romney share the same expressed goal of all troops leaving Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
EUROPE'S FISCAL CRISIS
The debt crises beguiling Greece, Spain, Italy and a host of other European nations have imperiled the health of the European Union and its currency, the Euro. Moreover, much of Europe has plunged into a double-dip recession, the effects of which have imperiled the American economic recovery.
But the still-serious situation in Europe has been little more than a punchline for the candidates through the first two presidential debates.
“If the president were re-elected, we'd go to almost $20 trillion of national debt. This puts us on a road to Greece,” Romney said in Tuesday night’s debate, repeating a line that should sound familiar to anyone who’s followed the Republican presidential nominee’s stump speeches this year.
So serious was the situation in Europe that the president took to the White House briefing room in early June -- the same remarks in which he suggested the private sector was “doing fine” relative to the public-sector economy -- to warn about the impact the European debt crisis could have on the American economy.
Obama announced in June that his “evolution” on gay rights was complete, and that he supported the right of same-sex couples to marry.
Romney responded at the time by reiterating his opposition to gay and lesbians’ ability to marry while calling it a “tender” issue that deserved sensitivity.
The president’s announcement in June was heralded as historic, but also a politically shrewd move to energize young voters and his LGBT supporters, while also putting Romney in the difficult position of trying to strike a centrist note while not alienating the socially conservative voters who make up a core constituency of the GOP.
But given the magnitude and politics of that June announcement, it is striking that the topic of same-sex marriage didn’t come up in the first two debates. (Even on another social issue, abortion and contraceptive rights, Romney stressed he believes "every woman in America" should have access to contraceptives.)
The absence of the conservative red meat on social issues is made all the more striking by comparing the first two debates of 2012 to the first debate of 2004, when President George W. Bush played up his opposition to same-sex marriage and used Sen. John Kerry’s more moderate stance against the Democratic nominee.