With new poll numbers showing his support receding among the women voters who had for so long been the anchor of his base, President Obama enters tonight's town hall-style debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney at a campaign crossroads.
Romney has made steady gains in the polls since his decisive performance during the candidates' Oct. 3 meeting in Denver, Colo. A USA Today-Gallup survey released Monday showed Obama and Romney tied at 48 percent among women "likely" to vote in battleground states. Those figures echo the results of a Pew poll, published last week, that found Obama had fumbled an 18 point lead, leaving him dead even with Romney at 47 percent. An ABC News/Washington Post poll has seen less movement on Obama's end -- he's at 51 percent -- but Romney is now at 43, an improvement from earlier in the campaign season.
Tune in to ABCNews.com on Tuesday for livestreaming coverage of the second 2012 Presidential Town Hall Debate in Hempstead, N.Y. Coverage kicks off with ABC News' live preview show at noon, and full debate coverage begins at 8 p.m.
If Romney can duplicate his Denver form this evening in Hempstead, N.Y., and see it coupled it with another equally bland showing from the president, the Republican could find himself in a position he would have hardly dreamed of two weeks ago.
Unlike in the days leading up to the first one-on-one, the campaigns have done less this week to "manage expectations" or cast doubts on their own candidates' abilities to articulate policy points or keep from "falling off the stage." The Obama campaign in particular has repeatedly promised a more engaged, aggressive showing.
"You should expect that [Obama's] going to be firm but respectful in correcting the record and the times we expect Mitt Romney will hide from and distort his own policies," campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in the run-up. "He's energized and I expect he will also be making a passionate case."
Obama began his day, energetically enough, with a workout and some 11th-hour prep work with a campaign debate team. A source familiar with the meetings told ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Jake Tapper that the president won't be holding anything back tonight, meaning viewers should expect him to bring up Romney's infamous remarks about the "47 percent" of Americans he said "are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them."
He's also expected to hit back against Romney's claim, during the first debate, that his health care plan would cover pre-existing conditions, an assertion fact-checkers have disputed and members of his own staff have since qualified.
Romney has spent much of the past few days being drilled on the town hall format, which calls on audience members to ask questions of the candidates and, in many cases, for the candidates to answer them directly.
If past history and current jockeying are any indication, both campaigns see the town hall forum as being fraught with potential complications. Four years ago, Sen. John McCain's pacing across the stage became a punch line on "Saturday Night Live." And many pundits believe Bill Clinton's unique ability to engage an audience member during a 1992 debate gave him a big boost in race with the more reserved incumbent, President George H. W. Bush.
Tonight's meeting will be governed by rules set out in a 21-page memo, first published by Time magazine Monday. Among the numerous, mutually agreed upon by-laws, there are to be no follow-up questions from the audience members (who will have their microphones muted after delivering their pre-packaged queries) or the debate moderator, CNN's Candy Crowley.
Crowley indicated Monday that she would be willing to intercede if necessary. Obama and Romney have also agreed not to address questions to one another.