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President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney face off Tuesday in the second of their three debates, this one in a town hall-style setting in which they’ll take questions from likely voters.

The stakes couldn’t be higher: Obama must get his campaign back on track after a poor performance in the first debate that left Democrats demoralized and Obama’s lead evaporating both in national polls and those in key battleground states. For Romney, who polls among voters showed won the first debate overwhelmingly, a second strong performance would boost his momentum going into the third debate next Monday and the final two weeks before Election Day.

Here are five things to watch for on Tuesday:

1. Connecting with the audience

Unlike the first presidential showdown in Denver two weeks ago, this debate will include a town hall audience of approximately 80 undecided voters, some of whom will get the chance to ask questions to the two candidates.

It’s a completely different dynamic than the first face-off between the president and the Republican nominee.

“The challenge is that they’ve got to connect, not just with the people that are looking into the television and watching them, but to the people that are on the stage with them,” the debate’s moderator, CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley, said.

Format makes it hard for candidates to dodge questions

“They have to keep those folks in mind. It’s a much more intimate and up close adventure with voters. The candidate that makes a connection with the person asking the question is also making a better connection with the person back at home,” added Crowley, who’s also the host of CNN’s “State of the Union.”

With no podium to hide behind in Tuesday’s debate, the candidates’ style and body language will be in the spotlight. If you don’t think this matters, flash back 20 years to the first town hall-style presidential debate when then-President George H.W. Bush repeatedly checked his watch. It was a sign, some thought, that the incumbent would rather have been anywhere else than debating Democratic challenger Bill Clinton.

The Arkansas governor highlighted his ability to connect to voters by walking towards the town hall audience when answering a question about the recession.

Democratic strategist and CNN contributor Paul Begala, who was chief strategist for Clinton’s campaign, agrees with Crowley on the importance of connecting with the audience.

“If you do that — with empathy, compassion, understanding and cool strength — you will win the debate and the election,” said Begala, who’s a senior adviser for a pro-Obama super PAC.

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article courtesy of CNN.com

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