AUSTIN -- Touching down for round two, Republican challenger Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama each arrived at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York Tuesday with a different set of goals.
The president will face the task of re-establishing himself after what many felt was a lukewarm performance in his first debate and sustaining enthusiasm among the Democratic party faithful churned up by Vice President Joe Biden's peformance in last week's vice presidential debate.
"It did seem to blunt a bit of Mitt Romney's momentum," said Austin-based Democratic political consultant Jason Stanford. "The swing states are stabilized a bit. Mitt Romney has clearly made this a race, but it has stayed a race since the vice presidential debate."
"I think what the swing voters want to see is a president," Stanford told KVUE. "They want to see someone who is willing to stand up to a bully and not let him get the last word just because he insists upon it and call him out for not telling the truth. I think people want to see a leader tonight, and I think that's what we're going to see."
"If Romney ends up winning this election, a huge portion of the credit will be due to that first debate," said Republican political consultant Matt Mackowiak. "He really took his campaign out of a losing position and put it on a tragectory to where he can actually win now."
Mackowiak credits the debates with tightening the polls, and suggests that unlike the president, Romney may not necessarily need to emerge the clear winner Tuesday night in order to score a tactical victory.
"You want to do everything you can not to break that tragectory," explained Mackowiak. "I think a tie, as long as there aren't any major moments that shift the narrative of the campaign, would probably continue that tragectory to some extent, but Obama really needs a win tonight. If he loses again or if he doesn't perform well, the criticism is going to be quite overwhelming, I think."
The wild card could be Tuesday night's town hall debate format, where candiates will answer questions directly from voters. The debate will be moderated by CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley, who will also select which questions will be presented to the candidates.
"I have spent a lot of time looking at where the holes are sometimes and the questions where they're asked," Crowley said Monday evening. "I think we've got a pretty good sense of what people are looking for, what their big questions are."
Crowley will ask follow-up questions based on the candidates' answers, something both the Romney and Obama campaigns lobbied the Commission on Presidential Debates to disallow. After brief confusion over whether the rules would allow Crowley follow-ups, debate co-chairman Frank Fahrenkopf told CNN the issue had been settled with no changes.
"Our format calls for her to facilitate during that two minutes additional discussion on the subject asked by the question," said Fahrenkopf. "We're coming down to the very end of a tough campaign, and I think both of the campaign apparatus get a little nervous, and I think it's normal that there'll be these concerns."
"A lot of times people talk about the Bill Clinton 'feeling your pain' episode from 1992, and that's really true," said Mackowiak. "You have to be able to connect, and this is an area that Romney has not shown a lot of strength in, in connecting with people, particularly on the trail. That said, he's also done over a hundred town hall meetings in the past year. So he has interacted with a lot of voters, and he does have experience in this format."
Both candidates will hope to score points with their base and coveted swing voters.
"The good news is our ideas work with the swing vote and Mitt Romney has to run from his ideas with the swing vote," said Stanford. "That's where our advantage is and that's why Obama's going to win."
The debate begins on KVUE at 8:00 p.m. and will be streaming live here on KVUE.com.