Precision planning in the countdown to the next debate

Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney at the first Presidential debate Credit: Reuters

The Presidential debates are serious business. Every staging detail is endlessly discussed and scrutinized by the two campaigns. Lawyers for Obama and Romney have gone through the text of the agreement and no item is too small to be considered and argued over.

Look at Paragraph 9 (b)(i) of the deal and, yes, it is mandated that there must be 48 inches between the stage floor and the podium writing surface. The podiums must be exactly ten feet apart.

For tonight's debate, the footrests of the chairs being used by the two candidates were pre-approved by their respective campaign managers.

Ridiculous and absurd. And yet entirely understandable. These debates matter that much.

Before the first Presidential debate there was much discussion about whether these events actually shifted public opinion. The Denver debate ended that. It is clear these theatrical confrontations matter a great deal.

These are the only moments when people see the two candidates on the stage side-by-side. The debates are watched by more than seventy million voters and all the main TV networks and the three cable news channels clear their schedules. There are no commercial breaks.

Tonight's debate is different from the first encounter because this will be a 'town hall' format. A carefully selected group of 80 undecided voters will be in the hall, positioned in a horse-shoe shaped stage around the candidates and they will be allowed to ask questions.

The questions have been selected in advance by the moderator, Candy Crowley of CNN. The debate will cover both domestic and foreign policy issues.

President Obama has been preparing on a magnificent golf resort in Virginia (I spent a great holiday there a few years ago so I can vouch for its serenity).

The golf course where Barack Obama has been preparing for the next debate Credit: Reuters

Despite being a keen golfer, he left his clubs at the White House in an effort to show that he is being a diligent student.

Mitt Romney has been getting ready for tonight while on the campaign trail in Ohio and Virginia.

So the stage is set, the candidates are cramming for their second debate, and Americans are waiting to see which President Obama emerges.

Will the President be meek and defensive as he was in Denver? Will he over-compensate and be aggressive and angry?

Or can he calibrate a perfect response and halt Mitt Romney's astonishing surge?