This time, voters pose the debate questions

By Connie Cass

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Oct. 15 2012 3:01 a.m. MDT

"It's the flesh and blood of America, so I love those things," Clinton later told Jim Lehrer of PBS. "And I loved that one."

Bush told Lehrer he hated debates, period.

Because candidates are free to walk about, town halls are body-language danger zones.

In 2000, Al Gore was ridiculed for striding unnaturally close to George W. Bush as his rival spoke. Bush deflected Gore with a surprised look and curt nod, to audience laughter. In 2008, comedians emphasized McCain's age by ridiculing the way he seemed to wander aimlessly about the stage while Obama talked.

Then there are the questions. They tend to be broader and more straightforward than those posed by the old-style panels of journalists or the single moderators favored more recently. But they can be unpredictable. And while debaters often ignore reporters' questions and veer off to some other talking point instead, it's less acceptable to treat a citizen's question that way.

In 2004, President George W. Bush took heat for failing to come up with a single mistake when a woman asked him to describe three wrong decisions and how he fixed them.

Town halls have lost some of their spontaneity. The 80 or so undecided voters chosen for Tuesday's event must submit their questions in advance and moderator Candy Crowley of CNN will decide which people to call on. She can pose her own follow-up questions.

In 1992, questions weren't screened in advance. Simpson walked through the audience Oprah-style and a producer signaled which person to talk to next, seeking a good demographic mix. She had no idea what the next person might ask.

"They were not the questions the media had been focusing on," said Simpson, who now teaches journalism at Emerson College in Boston. "They were asking about bread-and-butter issues that they were interested in — the education in their schools, the crime in their neighborhoods, the economy and jobs."

"We're still talking about the same things — the deficit, jobs, outsourcing," she said. "We'll probably hear some of the same subjects Tuesday."

Associated Press writer Larry Margasak contributed to this report.

Follow Connie Cass on Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/ConnieCass

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