HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The stakes couldn’t be any higher. Hofstra University couldn’t be any more fired-up. There were no classes Tuesday and a pep-rally atmosphere on campus.
Tuesday night marks the second presidential election in a row that features Hofstra hosting a pivotal debate, and Long Islanders are the ones actually asking the questions.
President Barack Obama landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Tuesday afternoon. A few hours earlier, Republican nominee Mitt Romney walked off his plane at MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma.
Security is extremely tight, tighter than it was four years ago because there is a sitting president here.
WCBS 880′s Peter Haskell reports
Concrete barriers and dump trucks are in place around the campus. Police cruisers fill the parking lot. Secret Service agents are everywhere. Some roads are scheduled to be closed until well after midnight.
The Hofstra students are pumped up. The campus has become a sea of red, white and blue.
The days of intense debate preparation are over and both President Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Romney have the same pre-debate strategy — look and sound like a winner, smile, look casual and act like you don’t have the weight of the entire election on your shoulders.
Both men are under the gun heading into Tuesday night. The president has to make up for the disappointing first debate in Denver, while Romney will look to keep his momentum going. How were they feeling as they arrived at Hofstra?
“If I’m Obama, I’m really nervous. I’ve got the pregame nerves,” Hofstra professor Larry Levy told CBS 2′s Marcia Kramer. “If I’m Romney I need to spend a lot of time making sure I connect with voters, say thing things like I hope not as nervous as I am.”
Tuesday’s debate will be far different than the first one. It’s a town hall format where local citizens ask the questions that could determine who sits in the oval office. And they’re often not predictable. Experts said the debate could veer away from typical topics like the economy and open the door for social issues like immigration, women’s health care and education.
“It’s a much tougher format because you don’t know what the questions are going to be,” Hofstra trustee Arthur Kremer said. “They’re going to ask things about college aid, and how to get my kids out of the living room. They’re going to talk about the second job that the wife lost.”
“I think that for someone that’s undecided like me and being a young voter hearing those everyday issues that probably pertain more to me now will probably help me decide more,” undecided voter Larry Daves said.
About 4 percent of voters nationwide are still undecided.
And it should not be lost that it’s the people here in Nassau County sitting on the stage and asking the questions who will be the voice of undecided voters across the country.
The importance attached to this year’s debates is reflected in the significant chunks of time that both candidates have spent preparing.
Obama, faulted for being ill-prepared for the first faceoff with Romney, largely dropped out of sight for the last three days to attend “debate camp” at a resort in Williamsburg, Va.
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Romney, the clear victor in Round 1, devoted big blocks of time to rehearsals over the last several days as well.
Romney is hoping to keep his momentum going with another solid debate performance. Recent national polls show likely voters about evenly divided, but multiple surveys have detected increasing enthusiasm among Romney backers.
WCBS 880 Long Island Bureau Chief Mike Xirinachs reports
Now, Obama is looking for the same kind of boost from a comeback performance.
“President Obama needs to make up for what’s been seen as a poor performance in Denver,” presidential scholar Meena Bose told CBS 2′s Kramer. “[Romney] really has to focus more on listening to the voters, making his case, but not seem as if he’s talking too much,” Bose added.
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“I think Obama really needs to be much more confident in his presentation tonight, maybe even a little more aggressive in defending his position,” said Carolyn Dudek, an associate professor of political science at Hofstra. “For Mitt Romney, I think he needs to show the same kind of poise that he had in the first debate but I still think the American public is waiting for more details on his policies.”
Democratic Rep. Jose Serrano of the Bronx, who has been in Congress for more than 20 years, also offered advise for the president.
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“He has to, first, look like he wants to be there. Secondly, we’re now in an age, as Joe Biden found out, where if there’s something not to laugh about, you can’t laugh about it. If there’s something not to smile about or smirk about, you shouldn’t smirk about it,” Serrano told WCBS 880 reporter Rich Lamb.
Tuesday’s debate audience of uncommitted voters was selected by the Gallup Organization. Moderator Candy Crowley of CNN will choose those who get to speak after reviewing proposed questions to avoid repeats.
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Three hundred students will also get to attend the debate in person. Ingrid Moyer is one of the lucky few who will be in the audience.
“It’s an amazing feeling when I opened up that e-mail,” she said. “Awesome feeling.”
“We’re all obviously really excited to have such a tremendous opportunity to have a national political event happening right here on campus,” said student Bill Goodenough.
The final debate of the campaign will be Oct. 22 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., focusing on foreign policy.
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