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Debate round 2: Risks, rewards of an Obama, Romney rematch

Published October 16, 2012 4:42 pm

Politics • Following Romney bounce after first debate, expectations may have changed.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Tuesday's presidential debate features a different format than Round One. This time there's no table, no lecterns, only a couple of chairs and microphones for the presidential candidates in a town-hall setting with voters asking the questions. Heading into the debate, here are some of our own questions:

How does President Barack Obama answer GOP criticism of his handling of the attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya?

The administration has been hit for changing stories on the attacks that led to the deaths of U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi — and why Obama didn't initially call the attacks terrorism.

Can Republican candidate Mitt Romney differentiate himself from Obama on Afghanistan or Syria?

While Romney has castigated Obama for "apologizing" for America, the Republican candidate needs to show voters that he has a firm grasp of foreign affairs and outline his own plan for handling the war in Afghanistan and dealing with a potential nuclear Iran.

How does Romney answer questions about details in his tax plan?

Romney has a plan to slash taxes by 20 percent overall by cutting loopholes and expanding the economy, though studies have questioned his fuzzy math. Romney may have to go beyond the talking points and into the details.

Can Obama answer voters' concerns about the slowness of the economic recovery?

Obama walked into the Oval Office with the economy in free fall, and although the unemployment rate is dropping of late, critics say the president hasn't done enough to shore up American jobs and boost business earnings.

Does Obama step up his aggressiveness while not coming across as angry or rude?

During the first debate, the president came across as passive and listless, leading to a Romney bounce in the polls and energizing the Republican base. Obama supporters want their candidate to come out strong and take the fight to Romney.

Can Romney come across as loose and likable in the new format?

Romney's stiffness, or at least the perception he is mechanical on the campaign trail, has been a worry and the debate setting could only highlight that if the GOP candidate seems uncomfortable.

Which candidate can make a palpable connection with voters?

Previous polls have shown Obama is more likable than Romney, though the Republican candidate has gained on that recently. The chance to appear engaged and empathize with voters is more likely in this town-hall setting, and both candidates need to step away from their worn-out lines to reach the undecideds.

Who will get the better zingers and who will utter that unfortunate gaffe?

Neither candidate can afford an "oops" moment, `a la Texas Gov. Rick Perry, but they'll come armed with one-liners to throw out. For Obama, it means drawing a laugh or applause that becomes the quintessential moment of the debate. For Romney, it's casting out a line that stings in the days after the debate.

TV tidbits • An estimated 67.2 million people watched the first presidential debate on Oct. 3, according to the Nielsen rating service. That was the largest television audience for a presidential debate in 20 years and marked a 28 percent jump from the first debate in the previous presidential election.

The TV audience for the Oct. 11 vice presidential debate was estimated at 51.4 million, according to Nielsen.

That was down 18 million from 2008, when then-candidate Joe Biden faced Republican hopeful Sarah Palin. But other than the Biden-Palin blockbuster, this year's vice presidential debate drew the biggest TV audience dating to 1984, when George H.W. Bush took on Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman running mate on a major-party ticket. —

The second presidential debate

When • 7-8:30 p.m. MDT, Tuesday

Where • Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., on Long Island

Watching • All networks (ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX) as well as C-SPAN and most cable channels will carry the debate live.

Live feed • sltrib.com