Romney comes to the arena strengthened by his first debate. And the people-first format gives him a unique chance to overcome a persistent weakness: suspicion among some voters that he's too wealthy to relate to the middle class and the poor.
But if Romney fails to engage with his questioners, he could reinforce that impression. That's what happened to President George H.W. Bush in the first televised town hall debate, a low moment in a failed bid for re-election. That 1992 event at the University of Richmond stands unmatched as an example of the format's risks and rewards.Bold to highlight AP reporter Connie Cass' personal opinions. She goes on to highlight Bush 41's glance at his watch before a kneecap question about how the national debt affects rich people. Later she mentions Bush 43 avoiding a demand to list three wrong decisions and how he fixed them. She throws in Gore's aggressive body language in 2000 then recovers by reminiscing about how partisan late-night comics mocked McCain's age after the 2008 version.
So there you have the town hall scorecard according to her--3 GOP bombs and one personal space invasion by a Democrat. She quoted first debate moderator Carole Simpson's gushing recollection about how Bill Clinton literally emoted himself right through the TV into viewers' homes in 1992.
So the table is set. As she says, this debate is for the people (aside from the pre-selected questions picked by Candy Crowley) therefore the best BS'er usually wins--it's no surprise Bill Clinton was the originator of this format. It only takes one well-placed trap question to turn the thing.
Besides, Romney can be a little wooden in his gait and he's super rich and probably doesn't know the current price of Slim Jims or Slurpees at 7/11. He can't feel a truck driver's pain and doesn't hug his trash collector, and if he tries to pretend otherwise he'll come across as fake. Obama is also rich and almost surely out of touch but his narrative remains intact-- raised by a single mom in Hawaiian and Indonesian barrios; humble background, massive student loans that he only paid off ten years ago, which caused him to drive a rusted beater, etc.
No, the landmines of privilege will only explode under the Republican. Romney's main hope is that Crowley chooses a few Tea Party questioners to buzz O about his spending, then again, she could also use those to ask Romney about his relationship with Trump and his comment about his birth cert.