When Barack Obama and Mitt Romney take the stage Tuesday for the second presidential debate, they will carry with them the aftermath of the first -- poll results showing the Republican challenger exceeded expectations and the president was judged off his game in the Oct. 3 matchup in Denver.
Here are some questions and answers about what to expect at Tuesday's high-stakes rematch at Hofstra University on Long Island, N.Y., which comes 20 years after the first presidential town hall debate.
Q. How will the format differ from the first debate?
A. While the debate will take place over the same 90-minute time frame, the questions will come from undecided voters in a town hall setting. CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley will moderate the session. Questions will be posed by undecided voters selected by the Gallup polling organization.
Q. How can I see the debate on television?
A. The 9 p.m. EDT broadcast will be live on all of the major networks and cable channels, including C-Span.
Q. What policy areas will the candidates tackle in the second debate?
A. Unlike the first one, which was limited to domestic policy with a heavy concentration on jobs and the economy, the Hofstra University debate will cover both domestic and foreign issues.
Q. When was the first “town-hall” style presidential debate and what is it remembered for?
A. The first town hall event was on Oct. 15, 1992. The second presidential debate that election year, it featured incumbent President George H. W. Bush, Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and Texas businessman H. Ross Perot in Richmond, Va.
In it, Bush told Clinton he was concerned Clinton would turn the White House into the “Waffle House” with his changed positions on critical issues. But Bush stumbled when he was asked by an audience member, “Has the national debt personally affected each of your lives?” Part of Bush’s response was “I’m not sure I get it. Help me with the question and I’ll try to answer it … Everybody cares if people aren’t doing well."
Q. What issues that were raised then by citizens during the inaugural town hall are still on the minds of voters?
A. The Richmond audience asked questions about the deficit and whether it could be eliminated in four years. They asked about the national debt. They asked about the cost of health care. They asked about underfunded physical infrastructure needs of the country. And they asked about job creation.
On foreign affairs, a member of the audience asked about “the new world order” following the collapse of the Soviet Union and “our responsibilities as a superpower.” In response, Perot said: “We cannot be the policemen for the world any longer."
Q. What is the quality of questions posed by regular citizens compared to those asked by journalists?
A. Michael Nelson, a professor of political science at Rhodes College in Memphis, who has written 25 books on the presidency and elections, says the quality is good.
“I like the town hall questions," Nelson said. "They are a little less predictable than the questions asked by professional journalists and, as a result, they can take the candidates out of their well-rehearsed comfort zones."
Q. Why are third-party candidates excluded from the presidential debates? Who is running as head of a third party?
A. The Commission on Presidential Debates, a non-profit organization that has conducted the debates since 1988, has established a rule that a candidate must show 15 percent support in at least five national polls to be eligible for a podium on the televised stage.
In 2012, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Libertarian Party candidate Gary E. Johnson have requested to be included. Johnson, a former two-term governor of New Mexico, last month sued the commission and the national Republican and Democratic parties in federal court in California for access. Johnson, who will be on the November ballot in 48 states, argues that any candidate who is on enough ballots to win the required 270 Electoral College votes to win the White House should be permitted to participate.
Hofstra University education Prof. Alan J. Singer said voters benefit from more choices. “My concern is that the two parties’ (candidates) are playing not to lose and, as a result, the American people are denied a real discussion of the issues."
Q. How many people are expected to watch the second debate?
A. The country is eager to see the candidates face off -- an estimated 67.2 million watched the Denver go-round -- but we’re still in the midst of Major League Baseball playoffs season with Game 3 of the American League Championship Series set for the date of the Hofstra debate.
Professor Nelson said interest
in the first debate was “unusually high.” He said “a lot of people will tune in for the second debate to see if Obama has gotten his game back."
Q. What will be the atmosphere outside the debate venue?
A. The Long Island Peace Alliance is holding a demonstration outside the hall to raise issues of continued American involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, and to make the statement that “We don’t want continuous war."
The debates, all held on college campuses, tend to attract outside agitators of all kinds.
Q. How many states will already have begun early voting by the time of the second debate?
A. Indiana, Idaho, South Dakota, Georgia, Vermont, Maine, Iowa, Wyoming. Nebraska, Ohio, California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington and Arizona will have begun in-person early voting by Oct. 16.
Ohio is the biggest prize among the swing states on that list. It’s worth noting that Obama won Florida, Colorado and Iowa with his early voting “ground game” in 2008, while losing the Election Day vote in those states.
Q. Will there be another debate between Obama and Romney?
A. Yes, the third -- and last -- debate will be held Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. It will be limited to foreign policy.