Get the cocktails and snacks ready: The second presidential debate is going down tonight at 9 p.m. If you’re a President Obama supporter, you may be a little anxious about how this whole thing might go down. After all, last time he seemed a little…off. We’re not sure whether he was just unprepared or he had taken some Benadryl that day (it is allergy season, after all), but we think tonight will be a little bit different.
If nothing else, the fact that Candy Crowley will be the first woman to moderate a presidential debate in 20 years is pretty exciting. But, the town hall format —where the questions come from undecided voters in the audience instead of the moderator — could mean some interesting questions. Here are five things to watch (and listen) for.
1. Women’s issues. Women didn’t get any airtime in the first debate (understandably, since the theme was the economy), but it's worth noting that the only “women’s issue” discussed during the VP debate was abortion. We expect that to change this time around, with more focus on things like women’s health, birth control, sexual assault, and abortion laws, as well as other social issues that haven’t been hashed out in detail yet.
2. Taxes, and the 47 percent. Yes, we were surprised no one brought up Romney’s gaffe at the first debate, too. Tonight, expect at least one person to bring up their own tax rate, the candidates’ tax returns, and whether Romney really cares about the whole country — or just half of it.
3. The Benghazi attack, and who is responsible. Besides being really, really sad, the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya, (that killed Ambassador Christopher Stephens and three other Americans) has become super politicized. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has taken responsibility for the attack, but there are still a lot of questions remaining about security and who knew what, when.
4. Surprises. Town halls tend to be gaffe factories, and the citizens asking the questions are very likely to share their own struggles and ask the candidates about their personal experiences. This could be particularly interesting since both candidates are trying hard to connect with voters, and they’ll have to think on their feet. We’d be shocked if at least one candidate doesn’t wander away from his talking points.
5. Smiling and interrupting, or the lack thereof. This is TV, and just like that Nixon-Kennedy debate we learned about in history class, appearance is everything. These days, the focus is not so much on makeup or clothing, but on facial expressions. Romney’s demeanor in the last debate was the real winner, with Obama seeming distant and out-of-it. And people are still talking about Joe Biden’s over-the-top laughing, smirking, and snarking at the patiently grinning Paul Ryan, not to mention all those interruptions. This time, we expect Obama to be more engaged, but both will have to strike a balance in this format. Neither wants to come across as a bully.
Photo: Courtesy of Obama 2012.