Stephanopoulos: Connection With Voter Trumps Personal Attacks in Town Hall Style Debates

By Jennifer Parker

Oct 7, 2008 7:18pm

ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos reports: Presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama square off against each other tonight in their second presidential debate at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.

Tonight’s debate, moderated by NBC’s Tom Brokaw, will feature selected questions from voters out of several hundred thousand questions that have come in over the Internet.

With the electoral battleground tilting in favor of Obama , and less than 28 days to go before Election Day, McCain is growing more strident in his personal attacks against Obama.

In recent days McCain has sought to erode support for Obama by attempting to tie him to 1960s radical William Ayers, and the Republican National Committee is launching a new television ad tomorrow slamming Obama’s spending proposals as "crazy."

It’s very difficult to launch personal attacks in a town hall debate like this one, where uncommitted voters will have an opportunity to ask the candidates about issues that matter to them.

But both campaigns are preparing for those questions to come from the moderator, campaign aides tell ABC News.

The winner of this town hall debate will be the candidate who establishes a personal connection with the voters who are asking questions in the audience, who act as proxies for voters watching at home.

During the 1992 presidential town hall debate between former President George H.W. Bush and then Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, a woman asked the candidates how the national debt had affected their lives.

Clinton walked toward the woman and asked her questions, but Bush was caught checking his watch.

It was a really important moment in the debate where Clinton seemingly connected with the voter, and Bush came off as aloof.

Bush eventually lost the 1992 election to Clinton.

Tonight, look for those moments where either Obama or McCain establishes a connection with the questioners in the debate hall.

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