Some would argue that Mitt Romney's victory over President Obama in the first presidential debate was the defining moment of the campaign, the point at which swing voters realized that their personal goals could most easily be achieved under Romney. Others will say that the final debate will be the one that sticks in voters' minds or that foreign policy is a key separator between the two candidates.
It's the middle debate and its town hall format that will have the biggest impact on voters. More people will watch it than any other in history and states will be won or lost based upon the performances of the combatants.
If Obama is more- or even equally-compelling, most will be forgotten from his disastrous first performance and he will regain many of the voters that he lost. If Romney can keep his momentum going and truly touch the voters with his responses, he will be strongly positioned to pull off a victory in November. The final debate will not win or lose as many voters for either candidate as this one.
People like questions from their peers. Moderators often come across as part of the show. Their engagement with the candidates is often a distraction and some such as Martha Raddatz in the VP debate try to install their own opinions and personality into the events. The town hall format is perceived as a way to get to the core of the candidates. How they "answer us" is more important than how they answer journalists.
The timing of this debate is important as well. Many undecided voters feel the urge right about now to hop on one side of the fence or the other. This is the time when close elections are won and lost.
Finally, foreign policy is extremely important to many knowledgeable voters but it's lower on the priority list for most Americans. "We have plenty of problems here," they say. On the surface, the talking points regarding foreign policy seem very similar. One says to pull out of Afghanistan in 2014 no matter what. The other says pull out of Afghanistan in 2014 if it makes sense. One says Iran will not be allowed to get a nuke. The other says Iran will not be allowed to get a nuke. Most at Red State would agree that digging deeper reveals huge differences in how the candidates would handle foreign policy for the next four years. Your average voter does not see or care about the distinctions.
The upcoming debate will focus on jobs. It will focus on taxes. It will focus on "fair share" versus "hard work". The topics that will be discussed are very predictable. They're the questions to which most voters want the answers.
In the last four decades, no debate has had more riding on it. An argument can be made that the country itself is on the brink and this election could determine the fate of the entire world. The stakes have never been this high. This debate might just determine everything.