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Presidential town hall debate to test both candidates

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The second presidential debate between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney will take place tonight at Hofstra University, located in Hempstead, N.Y.

This debate will come down to the wire, according to Ronald Carpenter, an English professor at the University of Florida. Ronald’s publications include articles in journals, such as Presidential Studies Quarterly and The Quarterly Journal of Speech.

“I think it is a game changer because the moderator really cannot control to get these two candidates confronting one another on specific issues,” Carpenter said.

It depends on what questions are asked by members of the audience, according to Carpenter.

Carpenter said there are two audiences in this setup. One audience includes the people at the debate, but the candidates must also appeal to the larger national audience at home.

According to Carpenter, the candidates will act how Richard Nixon did in the 1968 presidential town hall debate. Nixon walked around in a semi-circle formation, which allowed him to look at whoever was asking questions, showing he did not need assistance from any notes.

“He was not behind a lectern, as if to show ‘Look how in complete control I am of the situation.'” Carpenter said.

There is not a clear expected winner for tonight’s debate, according to Carpenter. He said a sort of loophole in the town hall format allows candidates to go off on tangents, instead of directly answering the questions.

Candidates have access to the questions beforehand, which Carpenter said will allow them to prevent a situation like the one Gerald Ford faced in 1976, where he declared “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, and there never will be under a Ford Administration.”  Time Magazine referred to this gaffe as “The Blooper heard round the world.”

Although Carpenter believes the debate will be a balanced fight between the candidates, he also acknowledges Obama has the advantage of being president.

Even with the push for early voting, Carpenter advises not underestimating the power of this debate.

“I think that there are still a tremendous amount of people out there who are still undecided, Carpenter said.

Cassandra Vangellow edited this story online.

About Ethan Magoc

Ethan is a journalist at WUFT News. He's a Pennsylvania native who found a home reporting Florida's stories. Reach him by emailing emagoc@wuft.org or calling 352-294-1525.

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