"Spin Alley" at Hofstra University.

Elections 2012: Eighty Undecided Voters Are on Stage in Tuesday’s Debate

Mark Trahant
10/15/12

President Barack Obama spent the weekend in Williamsburg, Virginia, preparing for Tuesday’s Town Hall style debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney.

And even before a word has been said on stage, the event is already generating controversy.

The debate moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, said over the weekend that it’s her job to press candidates to answer the questions from the roughly 80 people in the audience. They were selected by the Gallup polling organization to represent undecided voters.

“You know and I know it is very easy for politicians to run over a reporter – they don't care,” Crowley said. “But 80 undecided voters looking at you, and some of them getting up and going, ‘Well, what about this?’ It's just harder to dodge.”

Still she said the candidates will be eager to stick with their scripts. “And I think that's where we come in, like why I said, ‘We know this. But the question was not oranges, it was apples, so could you please address apples, that would be good.’”

Time magazine’s Mark Halperin said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Monday that both Team Romney and Team Obama wasn’t keen on those comments.

“The campaigns and the (Debate) Commission envision a much more limited role than they’ve heard her describe and things are a bit influx,” Halperin said. “It’s clear that the campaigns have asked the Commission, as I report, to check with Candy to say, you know, “do you get the fact that we think this should be a very limited role?” Very few follow ups, basically, just traffic cop after an audience question.”

That means there will be three debate themes to watch: Obama, Romney, and whether or not Crowley makes good on her idea of pressing for in-depth answers to real questions.

The challenge for Obama, of course, is to be effective in his case about another four years. That’s exactly what Romney did in the last debate. He made the case about what four years would be like under his leadership. Romney, partly because he shifted his tone, sounding like a more moderate candidate.

But Team Obama is already pushing back. One issue that was missing from the first debate was abortion rights.

“Romney attempted to hide his extreme positions on a woman’s right to choose. He has previously said he’d be “delighted” to sign a federal bill banning all abortions and called Roe v. Wade ‘one of the darkest moments in Supreme Court history.’ But on Wednesday he tried to obscure his real position, telling the Des Moines Register that there’s “no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda,” the Obama-Biden blog said.

Team Romney will continue to press with its case that the next four years will look much like the last four years. “I was clear with the American people,” Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan posted in a blog over the weekend. “It's time to solve our debt crisis and stagnant employment and get our country working again. Mitt Romney and I have solutions, not excuses. A Romney-Ryan administration will grow the economy, create jobs, and get our fiscal house in order. We will recover.”

Indian Country Today Media Network will again offer live coverage of the second presidential debate, beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern Time. This debate will be held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York. I will be tweeting under the @indiancountry handle as well as posting a story immediately after the event. Last week for the vice presidential debate we had a great discussion – some 120,357 Twitter accounts were “reached” during the three hours we were live. Once again join the discussion by following hashtag #ICTMNDebate.

During the vice presidential debate we posted a link to a survey from Indian country in real time. Only 35 answered live, but a couple of interesting answers surfaced. First, all but one person said the debate would not change their mind. And by a margin of 25 to 5, those who answered said Democrats were better suited to improve health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives. We’ll ask again on Tuesday night and see if we can build some data coming from Indian country between now and the election tally day on November 6.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: marktrahant@thecedarsgroup.org.

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