It's a tie game, folks: With the first of three presidential debates down and the vice presidential sideshow over, the two men at the top of the major party tickets will face off once again in yet another 90 minute debate.
The last two weeks have been driven by Mittmentum: After a listless performance by President Obama in the first debate, GOP nominee Mitt Romney has picked up about three points in the polls, making the race essentially tied. So tonight's big question is whether the president will be able to stage a comeback, or at least show up looking fully awake.
For tonight's contest, they're taking it to the regular folks: Tonight's debate at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York, will be conducted townhall style, with a gaggle of undecided voters lined up to ask the questions that are near and dear to their own hearts. "This is the one debate that belongs to the people," Romney debate coach Brett O'Donnell told the Associated Press.
Granted, tonight's debate will differ in a number of ways from a typical townhall meeting. The whole thing is as carefully controlled as a WWE smackdown: National polling firm Gallup painstakingly questioned and selected 80 truly undecided voters to question the candidates. Those voters have already been rehearsing in advance using "dummy questions" (feel free to make your own joke here).
And unlike most townhall meetings that I'm familiar with, this debate will be moderated by a brand-name national journalist: CNN's Candy Crowley. Both campaigns have already questioned her role because Crowley has suggested she might not strictly follow the debate rules set by the two campaigns, which provide an extremely limited role for the moderator. Indeed, she has suggested that might even ask follow up questions intended to get candidates to clarify their answers. The horror!
Which just serves as a depressing reminder of what both presidential face offs are really interested in: Not answering potentially difficult questions, but putting on a carefully scripted show.
It's enough to drive a person to drink. Fortunately, Reason has a handy drinking guide for those who want to coordinate their sips and shots with the candidates' non-answers. Take a drink every time…
- Obama mentions "the 47 percent."
- Mitt Romney promises to lower tax rates, cut loopholes, and maintain current revenue levels without explaining how.
Obama says he has a $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. Double shot if he says the words "balanced plan."
- Romney mentions a five point plan, or any numbered list.
- Anyone claims to be defending, saving, or otherwise protecting Medicare.
- Either candidate mentions their own _____Care (RomneyCare for Romney, ObamaCare for Obama).
- Obama talks about immigration without mentioning that he has deported immigrants 50 percent faster than his GOP predecessor.
- Mitt Romney talks about building a border fence, or says "self-deportation."
- Obama blames Hillary for security failures in Benghazi.
- Candy Crowley asks a follow-up question. Double shot if either candidate tries to weasel out of answering.
- Anyone says the word jobs.
- Anyone mentions Bill Clinton.
Be sure to check back in at debate time (9 p.m. EST) as Reason editors live blog the debate.