Tonight, at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., the second of three presidential debates is scheduled for 9 p.m. In contrast to the formal style of the first, this debate will feature a “town hall meeting format in which undecided voters, selected by the Gallup organization, will question the candidates,” according to the Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) Web site.
Instead of the candidates being anchored behind podiums, the candidates will be “out amongst the people” who will be questioning them, said USF political science professor Kiki Caruson.
Another difference between tonight’s debate and last Thursday’s at the University of Miami, Caruson said, will be the topics. Prior to the last debate, both candidates were informed of issues planned for discussion, but not specific questions. In the town hall format, neither are revealed.
The audience will ask questions that have been submitted and approved by the CPD, leaving the floor open to any topic.
“The last debate focused on national security and domestic policy,” Caruson said. “This debate will offer the widest spectrum of issues.”
“Almost anything goes,” said J. Edwin Benton, a USF political science professor. But he expects to see more discussion of the economy.
This style of debate is beneficial to voters because it allows them to see both Sen. John Kerry and President George W. Bush in a different element.
“In this debate we’ll be able to see them interact one-on-one with individual citizens,” Caruson said.
Though Caruson said she has no personal opinion on which candidate won the last debate, she said polls show that neither candidate “ran away with it.”
“This is a significant amount of opportunities to see both men, and not in just one format,” she said. “They have the opportunity to improve with each subsequent debate.”
Both candidates have different styles of communication. Critics have noted Bush’s simplicity and charm, but without the restraints of a formal debate, he tends to go of topic, Caruson said.
Bush’s scowling and general looks of displeasure in the last debate have been compared to George H.W. Bush’s wristwatch glancing during the 1992 debates with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot.
“Watch for a lot of smiling,” Caruson said.
Kerry, often thought to be the better speaker of the two, has his own flaws.
“Kerry tends to be longwinded. People start to tune out,” Caruson said.
Time limits in the last debate forced him to make his points sooner.
Benton said it would be interesting to see what the candidates have learned since the last debate.
“Can Kerry continue the momentum from the first debate and can President Bush redeem himself, that is the game plan for both tickets,” he said.
USF political science professor Platon Rigos said he hopes Kerry will respond strongly to the attacks on a point he made in the first debate, that our reasons for preemptive war need to pass the American peoples’ test, and the global test, he said. The Bush Campaign has misconstrued the statement, he said, saying Kerry puts the world’s opinion before the American citizens’.
“We live in a time where it is impossible to be against preemptive war,” he said. “(Kerry) must say ‘I just want to make sure next time we have a strong case for preemptive war.'”
The third presidential debate will be Wednesday (Oct. 13) at Arizona State University in Temple, Ariz.