Great(ly reduced) expectations

Anyone who tells you that tonight's debate will definitely be a game-changer is guilty of peddling, well, malarkey

Edward Morrissey

Tonight's debate looms large for both presidential campaigns. Barack Obama needs a comeback performance to erase the memory of a terrible first outing, which changed the momentum of the race. Mitt Romney would like to score a knockout blow and build on his momentum. Neither candidate will likely achieve their goals, given the dynamics of the format and its position within the general-election schedule.

First, the debate format doesn't lend itself to big battles between the candidates. While there will be room for digs against opponents, the town-hall format will force both Obama and Romney to focus their attention on the attendees asking the questions, likely voters provided by Gallup for the evening. That means being solicitous of their opinions and questions, even when they don't match up with the debate strategies of the campaigns. Each question will prompt a two-minute face-off between the two candidates in which they can go after each other's answers, but the back-and-forth between those interludes and the audience-participation rounds won't allow for much momentum for either side.

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