It's about 6 in the evening and the Hofstra University campus is abuzz with spinners and spinnees in the lead-up to this evening's presidential debate. After President Barack Obama's debacle in Denver and Mitt Romney's triumph, the stakes have actually risen for both candidates. Obama suddenly finds himself in a close race he must take very seriously, and Romney's rise has made his every move far more important, as well.
So who has the edge tonight?
It's a tough question to answer, particularly when you consider that the punditocracy got its predictions for the first debate 100 percent wrong. I'd say both candidates will garner certain advantages from the town hall format, and predict a very close battle.
Obama will likely benefit from his ability to directly address the questioners. He has generally been pretty good at relating the benefits of the policies he supports to normal people, in a "Mary, here's what my tax plan is going to do for you," kind of way.
Romney, though, will benefit from the fact that common person queries won't focus much on mathematical details of his proposals, in the way that questions from professional moderators sometimes do. The math of Romney's tax and spending plans is very much in question, but with general questions like, "What would you do to create jobs" or "How would you balance the budget," he can soar.
The wild card is that the questions will all come from Long Islanders, Nassau County uncommitted voters. Long Islanders can be a fiercely contentious bunch, and the questions may be quite edgy, the answers not automatically accepted. I personally hope some of the questioners do let their aggression show, and make the sparks fly.
So best guess?
This one is going to be pretty close to a tie, probably a mild Obama win, with each man scoring some points and making some missteps. That will allow for the final debate, next week in Boca Raton, Fla., to be a winner-take-all finale, and a full-buffet media feast.