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The second presidential debate: Does the town-hall format favor Obama?
The candidates will be expected to show that they can empathize with regular voters. That could be a challenge for Mitt Romney
 
President Obama participates in a town hall at the University of Miami on Sept. 20: In Tuesday's presidential debate, candidates will answer questions from the audience.
President Obama participates in a town hall at the University of Miami on Sept. 20: In Tuesday's presidential debate, candidates will answer questions from the audience.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

After his listless performance at the first presidential debate, President Obama badly needs a strong showing at the second face-off to prevent Mitt Romney from building on his recent surge in the polls. The first time around, Romney proved himself to be a skilled debater, attacking Obama relentlessly on his economic record and putting a moderate face on his own conservative positions. But the second debate, which will be held in New York on Tuesday night, will feature a town-hall format with questions from an audience of undecided voters — which may not play to Romney's strengths. Does the town-hall format give Obama an advantage?

Yes. Romney is terrible with people: Romney's main challenge will be a familiar one: "Demonstrating that he feels the pain of regular voters and is able to connect with them on a human level," says Scott Conroy at Real Clear Politics. Even though Romney has caught up to Obama in the polls, the multimillionaire still faces a "29-point deficit when respondents were asked which candidate best connects with ordinary Americans." Romney has long been handicapped by "impromptu moments of stilted conversation and awkward jokes," and the town-hall format makes it more likely that he'll stumble.
"Town-hall format could pose challenge for Romney"

No. Obama won't be able to go on the attack: Obama is under pressure "to launch a new offensive" against Romney, "but he'll be hard-pressed to wage campaign combat in that most demilitarized of debate zones — the town hall-style forum — where Clintonesque compassion wins over aggressive take-charge tactics," says Chris Cassidy at The Boston Herald. Romney is "hardly known for his charismatic persona or high comfort level around fellow humans," but that may not matter if Obama is discouraged from landing any heavy blows.
"President Obama can't fight in town hall-style forum"

Both candidates stink at town halls: Obama and Romney have each "held dozens of town halls with voters over the years, yet neither has sparkled in that setting," say Kathleen Hennessey and Maeve Reston at The Los Angeles Times. "Each is cool and cerebral, often seeming more comfortable behind a lectern." Obama is a "former law professor who has found it hard to shake his academic demeanor," while Romney's most famous gaffes — such as the puzzling assertion that he likes to fire people — came during interactions with voters.
"Town hall awaits Obama and Romney"

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

 

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