What to expect from the U.S. presidential townhall
HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. - President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger Mitt Romney will square off here Tuesday night in their second debate this election.
And the stakes are very high for the showdown, which comes as the two are statistically tied not just nationally, but in many of the crucial battleground states.
Since Romney's unanimous win over the president at the first debate in Denver earlier this month, momentum for the GOP ticket has surged, tying up the race where once the president was pulling ahead.
But unlike Denver, where a confident Romney trounced a passive, lacklustre Obama, the showdown at Hofstra University is a town hall forum where undecided voters -- about 80 of them chosen by the Gallup polling firm - will ask the questions covering everything from foreign policy, to the economy and social issues.
And it's those same people, both in the audience and the tens of millions watching at home, with whom Romney and Obama will try desperately to empathize with for 90 minutes.
In the so-called people's debate, it's more about convincing voters you share their pain than inflicting it on your opponent.
So while the Obama campaign is promising a more "energetic" president Tuesday, the trick is to be aggressive and passionate without seeming out of place in the town hall setting.
"He's calm and energized and just looking forward to getting to New York" on Tuesday, Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Monday.
Conversely, the challenge for Romney, whose earlier attempts to connect emotionally with voters largely fell flat, is to do just that. Feel middle class economic pain even though he himself is worth $250 million.
But a strong performance by Romney could keep propelling him in the polls and with only three weeks left until Election Day, he could open an insurmountable lead starting here Tuesday.
Another consideration for the candidates -- and the super bowl-sized audience -- is that town hall debates shine a spotlight on candidates' body language.
Consider Bill Clinton's command of the stage in 1992, when he walked towards a questioner and spoke softly about how he had been affected by the hard times in the late 1980s. Bubba wooed the whole nation.
In that same debate, then president George H. W. Bush infamously and purposefully gazed down at his watch looking impatient and was snippy with a woman who asked him a question about the national debt.
In 2000, George W. Bush laid a smackdown on Al Gore with just a commanding nod of his head when Gore awkwardly walked close to him on stage.
Obama readied for Tuesday's debate by spending three days at a secluded resort in Virginia. Romney was preparing for the past several days at a Marriot hotel near his home in Massachusetts.
As was the case in the earlier presidential and vice-presidential debates, the moderator for Tuesday's matchup, CNN's Candy Crowley, is taking some heat already, only this time it's from the campaigns.
In fact, it may be the only thing Obama and Romney agree on, and that's Crowley shouldn't be allowed to ask followup questions, but rather her role should be limited to moderating the post-audience question discussion between the two men.
Crowley has reportedly said she sees her role differently and was not a part of the negotiations between the two camps ahead of the debate.