Tonight’s "debate" is a "town hall" format. This again is not a debate, but more like a meet-and greet sales meeting with two competitors in the room. Or this resembles a fraternity or sorority rush, but with the rush chairs from two competing houses going at the rushees simultaneously. The prospects are enough to make the customers or the rushees drink heavily. Of course, that tends to play into the hands of the competitors.
My scoring for tonight’s spectacle will use the same measures, but the context is different.
Again, in high school and college debate, ballots had six areas, each awarded five points, for a total of 30 points possible per speaker. The usual areas were: delivery, refutation, organization, evidence, analysis, and cross-examination.
Both candidates have "holed up"—interesting phrase for the media to use—for last-minute prep.
Here are the areas by which I will judge.
Delivery: former Governor Romney has a lot more recent experience with "town hall" formats than does President Obama. Romney does not mix well with common people, though. Watch and listen for the former governor’s verbal hesitations. Look for President Obama to overcome his being way too laid-back in the last go-round.
Responsiveness to questions: Again, the "duck" factor. Every time one of the candidates answers a question with a non-answer, that is a duck. A person does not answer a question when that person simply tries to spin it into his or her talking points. This is dangerous in front of a randomly-selected (chosen with plants by CNN) audience. These folks might actually call the candidates out on avoidance of questions.
Evidence: As Joe Friday used to say, "The facts, just the facts." Let’s hear facts. Let’s also hear candidates skewered when they make false statements.
Demeanor: This is different in this type setting. Will Mitt appear too stiff? Will Obama be thrown off by something like he was last time? At least it’s not his anniversary.
Organization: This will be tough to maintain in each an’s mind. The road map has to be there, but there has to be adaptability to the unexpected.
Gaffes: So far we have not had any major league gaffes.
So there are my six categories. Chris Christie was proven correct two weeks ago—man, I about broke my laptop when I typed that—when he said the political landscape would be different when people got up Thursday morning. My pick was wrong.
This week, I look for President Obama to bounce back, in a significant way. But Romney has months of recent experience in this type of "town hall" setting. I will go with President Obama by 4 ½.