The second presdiential debate is set to take place on Tuesday, October 16 at Hofstra University in Long Island, NY. With just three weeks left until the election, the pressure is on to perform in this debate for both the president and candidate Romney. Questions swirl as clips of the last presdiential debate are played on repeat. Will Obama have a repeat performance? How will Romney do in the more intimate town hall setting? Why can't Candy Crowley ask her own questions? (#LetCandyFree seems to be a hot topic Twitter.) Here are some elements to watch out for in this debate:
1. Mix it up. The topics for the debate are curated carefully so that there will be domestic and foreign policy topics. As we saw in the last vice presendential debate, "foreign policy" actually means U.S. military policy in the Middle East. I doubt any other foreign policy topics will be covered since the third debate will focus exclusively on that aspect. Romney may bring up China and international trade agreements as he did in the first debate as an argument for having a businessman in the White House. It will be key for Obama to do live-fact checking in this debate and to actually respond to every statement made by Romney and not just answering the voters' questions.
2. Drop the mic. The town hall setting can be a dreaded one. It did not bode well for Al Gore as he tried to be assertive against George W. Bush. Awkward to say the least. Questions from these 80 "undecided" voters from Nassau County are pre-screened. Does anyone really think each of these voters is really, completely undecided? Expect some right and left leaning questions to add to the unpredictability of a live and interactive audience. Here's a video of Obama's last town hall debate with John McCain for reference. Romney will be just as aggressive as McCain, if not more and will appear calm with a smile on his face as he does it. It's important for Obama not to hold back without appearing angry, a fine line. During his DNC speech, Obama had a poignant line: "I'm not the candidate anymore, I'm your president." It's a deeper line than upon first read and it will be important for him to remember the meaning behind that statement on Tuesday.
3. Camera, Camera on the wall... The camera angles in a town hall always seem to be a challenge for candidates who are not naturally "relaxed." Granted it's an awkward seating position, bar stool in the middle or in front of a group of people. Will they stand up, walk around, sit while answering? What kind of answers requires standing up, closer to audience? What kind requires sitting, looking directly into the camera? No doubt both campaigns have gone over these details that seem painfully minute, but almost always subconciously register in the viewers' minds. Body language is a powerful tool, and equally powerful Achilles heel, in town hall debates. It's also the first time the candidates will able to interact in several years without podiums. How they talk to each other will be important as well. Obama can seem professorial and cold and Romney can come off as condescending and haughty. Both camps are watching for these characteristics during the practices.
4. Candy Crowley. As I pointed out last week for the VP debates, moderator Martha Raddatz made a huge difference in the tone, pace, and direction of the debate. In fact, I thought she was the real winner. Crowley may not be able to play as active of a role due to the voter questions, but watch for her to ask follow-ups and the specificity of those follow-ups. As many have pointed to Raddatz' political leanings (to the left) as an influence on her questions to Ryan, I will say that as journalists both Raddatz and Crowley know how to be objective and ask tough, but fair, questions. As a woman, I would hope she will ask questions regarding womens' rights on Tuesday night, a subject that was not discussed in the first debate.
Broadcast live at 9pm on nearly every network (including PBS!) and online at www.2012presidentialelectionsnews.com for 90 minutes.
10:10PM: For some reason, many Americans do not realize foreign policy is <gasp> complicated! It is actually all right for matters of national security and diplomatic relationships to be complicated. Not everything has to be as simple as Republican/Democrat, Liberal/Conservative, etc.
It's a little ridiculous to think the diplomat security buck stops with Secretary Clinton, but she has just declared she accepts responsibility for the tragedy in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012. I'm not so sure this isn't a politicizing of Ambassador Stevens' death, but it is far less crass than the Romney campaign's response. She's accepting responsibility, as someone in the administration needed to do weeks ago. It will be up to Obama to articulate it well tomorrow night. Libya will certainly be on the agenda, perhaps not from the audience, but one of the candidates will bring it up. Clinton may have just saved a huge burden for Obama tomorrow night....