Donald Trump is aiming for a comeback and Hillary Clinton is eyeing the knockout that eluded her when the two candidates met for their first debate last month.
The second U.S. presidential debate has high stakes and audience figures are likely to rival the record 84 million that that tuned in on Sept. 26. Also, voting day is just over four weeks away and Mr. Trump needs a strong showing to change the trajectory of the presidential race.
When and where: The second presidential debate takes place on Oct. 9. The two candidates will walk on to the stage at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., on Sunday night at 9 p.m. Eastern Time. That means the debate starts in the middle of Game 3 of the American League Division Series between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Texas Rangers. Two screens may be necessary.
Format: Half of the questions will come from an audience that is made up of undecided voters selected by the polling firm Gallup. The balance of questions will cover a broad range of issues, draw on social media and come from the moderators, CNN’s Anderson Cooper and ABC’s chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz. The debate lasts 90 minutes.
To win: Ms. Clinton, the Democratic nominee, was widely seen as the winner of the first debate. The Globe and Mail asked Alan Schroeder, professor of journalism at Northeastern University and author of Presidential Debates: Risky Business on the Campaign Trail, what he thinks each candidate needs to do to win the second debate.
For Trump it is a question of undoing the self-inflicted damage he incurred in the first debate. Can he display any sense of seriousness, of growth, of learning from his previous mistakes?
For Clinton it is a question of maintaining the momentum that followed her out of the first debate. She approached that debate with a clear strategy – to needle and provoke her opponent into self-destructing – and that strategy succeeded better than anyone expected. Now that Trump knows what he is in for, such approach may be less effective the second time around.
Polls: Heading into the second presidential debate, Ms. Clinton enjoys a lead in national polls and key battleground state surveys. That is a marked change from Sept. 26 – when the presidential rivals met at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.
At that moment in the campaign, the race was deadlocked. But Ms. Clinton’s steady debate performance and Mr. Trump’s meltdown delivered a bump in the polls that puts Ms. Clinton in front.
A Reuters poll released Wednesday of likely voters in a Clinton-Trump match-up shows the Democratic candidate leading by seven percentage points. In the key battleground state of Ohio, Ms. Clinton is ahead by two points.
Buzz: Mr. Trump, the Republican candidate, is caught in a swirl of negative press. He and his surrogates are strident in defending their fat-shaming of a former Miss Universe winner, arguing that paying no federal taxes is evidence that Mr. Trump is a genius, dodging allegations that the Trump organization broke rules by trying to invest in Cuba and dismissing crass comments he allegedly made to contestants on The Apprentice as entertainment.
The good news for the Trump campaign is that vice-presidential candidate Mike Pence was widely seen as winning the Oct. 4 vice-presidential debate. That also puts pressure on Mr. Trump to continue the momentum and be like his running mate: focused and disciplined in his message.
Plot line: The first presidential debate ended on a rather sour note – with Mr. Trump threatening to dig into the Clinton family’s past. Republicans patted Mr. Trump on the back for being a gentleman and showing restraint.
But there are two things to consider: Mr. Trump is not likely to embrace the rigours of debate preparation heading into the second debate and stay focused on stage. Also, he will be looking to repay Ms. Clinton tenfold in the number of attacks she levelled against him. In other words, anything – yet again – is possible, and that includes bringing up Bill Clinton’s sex scandals.
- Age: 70
- Experience: Real-estate mogul and TV showman
- Debate experience: 12 Republican debates in 2015 and 2016
- Debate style: Prickly; combative; dismissive; unprepared
- Age: 68
- Experience: U.S. secretary of state; U.S. senator; first lady
- Debate experience: Dozens of debates going back to her 2000 and 2006 Senate races and her 2008 and 2016 presidential bids
- Debate style: Methodical as a lawyer; versed like a policy wonk; a seasoned debater
Three things to watch for in the second debate
1. The power of the voter question
The first presidential debate that included questions from the live audience took place in 1992. The format got off to a bumpy start. The questions were not vetted and, generally speaking, voters don’t ask very good questions, says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, professor of communications and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
In 1992, a question from a voter about the national debt stumped President George H.W. Bush. In large part, it had to do with the question not being clear, says Dr. Jamieson.
But Mr. Bush’s difficulty answering the question also fed into a narrative – one advanced by the Clinton campaign that year – that the incumbent president was out of touch with voters. It didn’t help that Mr. Bush can be seen glancing at his watch during the town hall. The end result: Mr. Bush saw no bump in the polls, said Dr. Jamieson.
The town-hall format has an upside: Play it well and it can have a humanizing effect. Both Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump struggle with issues of likeability and the ability to show empathy, says Kelly Dittmar, assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University and scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics.
For each candidate, the town hall is an opportunity. But it also carries a risk: In the spotlight, candidates could appear unrelatable.
“To me there is an opportunity as well for the moderators and the audience to ask a question that they won’t have a prepared answer for and to really get a moment of authenticity. And again the authenticity might work to their advantage or disadvantage depending on what it is,” said Dr. Dittmar.
2. The body language and onstage dynamic
Some presidential candidates are at ease in the town-hall format. Remember, there’s no podium. So candidates are free to move around the stage. Former U.S. president Bill Clinton was a master at the format – able to deflect an attack from a rival, connect with an audience member and showcase his skills for viewers in the tens of millions watching at home.
A 90-minute debate requires stamina. Prof. Schroeder says he will be watching closely each “candidate’s technique in what is a distinctly physical debate format.” “How well do they manoeuvre that physical environment, where they are free to walk around and interact with the questioners,” he added.
Watch also how the candidates manage that onstage proximity to each other.
The risks of an overly aggressive Mr. Trump getting into Ms. Clinton’s space is there, and it’s the kind of behaviour that turns off male and female voters, said Dr. Dittmar, author of Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns.
3. The Bill Clinton sex scandal
Mr. Trump and his surrogates have been dropping strong hints and toying with the idea of bringing up the 42 nd president’s sex scandals during the Sunday night debate. The fact is that audience members in the town-hall setting have assembled to hear the candidates address their concerns, explains Prof. Schroeder.
By bringing up former president Bill Clinton’s infidelities, Mr. Trump runs the risk of his attacks falling flat. “I t could also engender a backlash of sympathy for Hillary Clinton,” said Prof. Schroeder.
Dr. Dittmar says there is little interest in the electorate to litigate the Clinton scandals from the 1990s all over again and many feel that bringing up Mr. Clinton’s infidelities is a below-the-belt tactic that would make voters uncomfortable.
It would also further hurt his chances with moderate female voters that lean Republican.
“Those women while they may not like the Clintons, or they may not agree with Bill Clinton’s infidelities, generally they are going to potentially believe what a lot of women believe, which is that a wife, a woman, shouldn’t be punished for the sins of her husband,” said Dr. Dittmar.