Candidates take Hofstra stage for second presidential debate


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HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- President Obama and Mitt Romney have arrived at Long Island's Hofstra University and are ready for their second of three debates this election cycle.

This time the questions won't come from a journalist but from undecided Nassau County, N.Y. voters whose questions will have been screened by moderator Candy Crowley of CNN.

"You get the questions in a much more personal way than you would if they were just coming from a moderator that is asking you something much more policy centric than real and emotional," said Robert Gibbs, a senior Obama campaign adviser and former White House spokesman in Hempstead for the debate.

"The president is looking forward to directly connecting with [voters] about what their question is and what their concern is. ??? This is a format the president will do well in," he said.

Republicans happily disagree.

"I'm not sure this format is conducive to a big rebound" because follow-up questions are expected to be minimal, said former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, who is on campus tonight to speak to reporters on behalf of the Romney campaign.

He said Mr. Romney, with whom he last spoke a week ago, is confident and ready.

The stakes are especially high for Mr. Obama in this debate. He is coming off a lackluster performance in Denver two weeks ago. The president was seen as disengaged and not aggressive enough while Mr. Romney appeared feisty and in command of his talking points.

Mr. Sununu said he expects more from the president tonight.

"He better be better because he was terrible last time," he said.

Going into the debate, the candidates are in a dead heat. Mr. Romney's poll numbers have been creeping up since the Denver debate.

A new poll by Gallup and USA Today puts Mr. Romney ahead of the president in some key states, where numbers were bolstered by increased support from women, a demographic that historically has favored Mr. Obama.

Mr. Gibbs downplayed the Gallup poll, saying it's an outlier.

"It doesn't make sense to me that we would see that kind of change," he said. The campaign has been working hard to court women and to show that the politicies of Mr. Romney and running mate Paul Ryan will hurt them.

This is the second presidential debate the university has hosted.

When Mr. Obama was here in 2008 he had just surged in the polls and commentators saw the debate as a vital chance for Republican John McCain to turn the tide.

The 2008 Hofstra debate was seen as the most substantive of the election cycle. It dissected Mr. Obama's proposal to reform health care and Mr. McCain's plan to have the government buy up troubled mortgages to stabilize falling home values.

The most memorable character from that debate, though, turned out to be neither candidate but Joe Wurzelbacher, better known as "Joe the plumber." During an Ohio campaign stop Mr. Wurzelbacher's question about tax policy drew a response from Mr. Obama about spreading the wealth around.

Mr. McCain returned to that comment often during the debate, using "Joe the plumber" as a metaphor for the middle class and launching Mr. Wurzelbacher into the spotlight. Mr. Wurzelbacher is now running as a Republican candidate for Congress in Ohio.

Hofstra has 11,500 undergraduate and graduate students on its Long Island campus a stone's throw from the Aqueduct racetrack and Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, home of the New York Islanders.

nation - electionspresident

Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com or 703-996-9292. First Published October 16, 2012 9:45 PM


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