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Second Presidential Debate To Be Held Tonight

The second presidential debate will be held at Hofstra University on Long Island tonight. It will be a town hall format, with an audience of likely but undecided voters chosen by Gallup. The moderator will be CNN's Candy Crowley.

President Obama is no doubt getting a lot of advice about the tone and style he should use. No one (except Republicans) thinks he should repeat his listless performance from the first debate. Some people are surely telling him to huff and puff like the Big Bad Wolf and Joe Biden, but the format (talking to someone in the audience) doesn't lend itself well to that. Also, it is not his style. Biden is the kind of guy one can imagine saying: "My mother told me never to interrupt someone who is speaking--unless he is lying through his teeth." That's not Obama, though.

Nevertheless, being passive again would be a disaster for Obama. Probably the best public advice is from Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's Secretary of Labor. Here it is in a nutshell.

Above all, Obama should be passionate, not passive, and harp on the point that he genuinely wants to help the middle class whereas Romney genuinely wants to help the rich and not the 47% he sees as not taking responsibility for their lives. All this can be done without interrupting Romney and being impolite. Focus on the questioner and make it clear he wants to help him or her.

Both Obama and Romney are aware that the gold standard in town-hall presidential debates was Bill Clinton's 1992 performance in which he walked close to the questioner and made it clear he felt his or her pain. Neither Obama, a professor used to lecturing large groups, nor Romney, a businessman used to looking at spreadsheets on a computer, is especially adept at one-on-one communication, but that is probably what is needed with tonight's format.

For many viewers, the facts and statements made by the candidates tonight will not be important. Experts say that voters are much more influenced by the candidates' body language and demeanor. Think about Obama's bored appearance during the first debate, Biden's eye rolling last week, George H.W. Bush's looking at his watch, or Michael Dukakis' clinical reaction when asked how he would feel if his wife were raped. Voters put a lot of stock in facial expressions and gestures and far less in the words the candidates utter, in part because they don't believe them.

What Will the Moderator's Role Be?

So far we have had two very different moderators. Jim Lehrer emulated a doormat and the candidates walked all over him. Martha Raddatz was firmly in control and called the shots. Candy Crowley's role is already controversial--and the debate hasn't even happened yet. The problem is that the candidates want her to simply announce the name of the next person to ask a question and then shut up. That is clearly not what she has in mind. If a candidate is evasive or fails to answer the question, she wants to ask a follow-up question or try to pin the candidate down, much as Martha Raddatz did. The candidates don't want this and agreed to it in a written memo. The only problem is that Crowley didn't sign the memo and doesn't feel bound to it. It will be interesting to see what happens if she asks a follow-up question. If a candidate says: I am here to answer audience questions and not yours" and Crowley, a very experienced reporter persists, we could have a real food fight.

Crowley has said: "I'm not a fly on the wall. We don't want the candidates to spout talking points." Clearly she intends to play an active role if the candidates just try to repeat their stump speeches, without really addressing the questions.

One factor that the candidates should be aware of is the location of the debate: wealthy Nassau County, 23 miles east of Midtown Manhattan. Unemployment is lower there than in the country as a whole and incomes higher, so the questions may not focus as much on unemployment as they would had the debate been held, say, in Nevada, where unemployment is higher than the national average. The names of the attendees, who are undecided voters selected by the Gallup organization, is a closely held secret.

David Stockman Says Romney Was a Speculator, Not a Businessman

David Stockman, Ronald Reagan's budget director and later a private equity investor has brutally dissected Mitt Romney's claims to be a smart businessman. Stockman says Romney was simply a financial speculator who bought troubled companies, sold off their assets and outsourced their jobs, and made them look good enough to get rid of them before they collapsed. Stockman's critique carries weight with Republicans who worship Ronald Reagan since it was Stockman who actually carried out Reagan's economic program and he knows in great detail how this stuff works.

Romney Raises $170 Million in September

The Romney campaign has announced that it raised $170 million in September, almost as much as the Obama campaign's $181 million. Television viewers are in for a bad month. If you live in a swing state, October and the first week of November might be a good time to turn off your TV and read all those books you never had time for. In Las Vegas, for example--never a city given to moderation in anything--there have been 73,000 television ads shown this year so far, and the worst is yet to come.

Forget the Debates and TV wars, Maybe It's the Ground Game, Stupid

While all the attention today is on the second presidential debate and it is always on fundraising and television ads, there is another factor that may ultimately decide the election: the ground game. That is the hum-drum business of identifying voters and getting those who support you to the polls. For example, Obama has 120 field offices throughout Ohio, many of them simple storefront operations that have been there since 2008. The scale and sophistication of Obama's get-out-the-vote operation in 2008 was unprecedented and has left Republicans scrambling to duplicate it this time. Republicans now have 108,000 volunteers working nationwide and have made 40 million voter contacts in an attempt to catch up. While the media insist that the election will be decided by the 4 or 5 percent of the voters who are still undecided, party operatives think the winner will be the campaign that does a better job of getting its supporters to the polls.

In addition, both parties are looking for unlikely voters. For example, under Ohio law, past felons who have served their time and felons who have been convicted but not yet sentenced are allowed to vote. Only those felons who are actually behind bars on election day are prohibited from voting. Also targeted are apathetic voters, many of them definitely not undecided, but too disinterested to vote. It is the job of the field offices to find these people and convince them to register and vote.

Also a factor is the voter ID laws, many of which are still being played out in the courts. Ohio, in particular, has two cases currently being weighed by the courts. These cases could determine who is allowed to vote and thus greatly affect the election.

Elizabeth Warren Raised $12 Million in Third Quarter

For a Harvard professor who has never held public office, Elizabeth Warren is pretty good about raising money. She pulled in $12.1 million in the third quarter, more than the $7.5 million her opponent, Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) collected. It is not a record though. In 2010, World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Linda McMahon (R) in her first run for the Senate raised $20 million--much of it her own money--in her failed attempt to buy a Senate seat. She is running again this year.

Today's Presidential Polls

State Obama Romney   Start End Pollster
Florida 48% 49%   Oct 12 Oct 14 PPP
Georgia 43% 51%   Oct 08 Oct 12 Atlanta Journal
Iowa 48% 48%   Oct 11 Oct 14 ARG
North Carolina 47% 49%   Oct 12 Oct 14 PPP
New Hampshire 47% 47%   Oct 12 Oct 14 Suffolk U.
Pennsylvania 49% 45%   Oct 10 Oct 14 Muhlenberg Coll.
Pennsylvania 51% 44%   Oct 12 Oct 14 PPP
South Dakota 41% 52%   Oct 01 Oct 05 Nielson Bros.
Virginia 47% 48%   Oct 12 Oct 14 ARG

Today's Senate Polls

State Democrat D % Republican R % I I % Start End Pollster
Florida Bill Nelson* 45% Connie McGillicuddy 37%     Oct 12 Oct 14 PPP
Florida Bill Nelson* 46% Connie McGillicuddy 45%     Oct 11 Oct 11 Rasmussen
Indiana Joe Donnelly 42% Richard Mourdock 47%     Oct 10 Oct 11 Rasmussen
Michigan Debbie Stabenow* 51% Pete Hoekstra 39%     Oct 11 Oct 11 Rasmussen
New Mexico Martin Heinrich 48% Heather Wilson 39%     Oct 09 Oct 11 Research and Polling
Pennsylvania Bob Casey* 41% Tom Smith 39%     Oct 10 Oct 14 Muhlenberg Coll.
Pennsylvania Bob Casey* 50% Tom Smith 39%     Oct 12 Oct 14 PPP
Virginia Tim Kaine 48% George Allen 47%     Oct 11 Oct 11 Rasmussen

* Denotes incumbent