Regardless of how the candidates perform at Tuesday night’s second presidential debate, the Hofstra University event in Hempstead, New York, will be different from the first face-off in at least one way: style.
This will not be the loosely moderated Jim Lehrer affair we saw two weeks ago. This will be a town hall style debate, and questions will come from the people—specifically residents of Long Island’s Nassau County who were randomly chosen by Gallup.
This is a pretty interesting group demographically. As Politico reported, Democrats’ voter registrations outnumber Republicans’ in the area, but the median income is much higher than the national average ($91,414 compared to $51,914), so more residents are likely to be hit by the president’s proposal to raise taxes on those making more than $250,000 a year.
But the biggest problem for Romney tonight may just be the regular folks he’ll encounter in this town hall debate. Romney often looks most awkward and out-of-touch in settings where he is interacting directly with voters. He was at a town hall in New Hampshire when he told a student asking about the student debt crisis to “borrow money from your parents.”
That’s far from the only time Romney has said something to “regular folks” that came back to haunt him. His “corporations are people” moment came in respose to a question asked by someone at a public event in Iowa. He was with a handful of voters in Florida when he decided it was a good idea to say “I’m also unemployed,” as if being so wealthy you don’t need to work is in any way comparable to being unable to find a good job. Gay veteran Bob Garon complained that Romney was “argumentative” with him when Garon asked for his opinion on same-sex marriage at a restaurant in New Hampshire last year. While the candidates may want to argue with each other on policies, it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to argue too much with the people asking them.
Romney will need to connect with undecided voters across the country Tuesday night, and if his past performance is any indication, that may be a struggle for him.