5 Things to Look Out for in Tonight’s Townhall-Style Debate Between Obama & Romney
1. A REBOUND? After taking a drubbing in the first debate, Obama’s under big pressure to step up his game Tuesday night. He’ll try to show energy and passion. And look for him to challenge Romney’s claims more often (although the townhall format isn’t always too friendly to negativity — so he’ll have to strike a balance). Obama’s generally comfortable taking audience questions at campaign events, and that should work in his favor at this debate.
2. MAN OF THE PEOPLE? The townhall format holds risk and opportunity for Romney. It could be a great chance to address one of the wealthy businessman’s trouble spots — poll respondents rate him as less likable than Obama and less in tune with regular folks. Romney could warm up his image if he connects well with the voters on stage and performs like he did during his first debate. What he needs to avoid: coming across as awkward or elitist (while this is something that would naturally hurt both candidates, after his 47 percent quip, this tends to be a sensitive area for Romney).
3. MORE CIVIL? Expect a less confrontational tone. As stated, the townhall format isn’t always friendly to contention. Although Democrats are urging Obama to go on the offensive, he needs to balance that against the restraints of the debate’s more personal and less official atmosphere. The two candidates will try to sound civil — even while underscoring their differences — to show respect for the folks surrounding them onstage. Being too aggressive wouldn’t benefit either candidate.
4. THE PEOPLE SPEAK: What will the voters ask? Usually not the kinds of questions posed by journalists moderating more traditional debates. The “real people” tend to frame questions in broader terms and are less likely to focus on the latest charges and countercharges. Sometimes they come up with something out of left field; that’s the moment to see how candidates think on their feet.
5. MORE THAN WORDS: They won’t be moored to a lectern or table, so this is the time to check out each man’s body language. Does a candidate seem relaxed and natural or ill at ease? Does he show empathy for the questioner by stepping in close and making eye contact? Is he attentive while the other guy is talking, or does he grimace and move around distractingly or – even worse – check his watch?