By Ian Bush

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – President Obama and Mitt Romney have been in debate preparation mode for the past few days; they’ll get to test their skills again tonight in their second face-off (at Hofstra University on Long Island). This time, the candidates will be answering to undecided voters.

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A town hall debate is more a sympathy fest than a slug-fest.

“What you communicate to the audience at home has a lot to do with the way you interact with people in the studio,” says Villanova political science professor Matthew Kerbel.

Kerbel says for the president, “The big criticism against him from the first debate was that he didn’t show up.  So what he’s looking to do is draw energy from the audience, relate to people directly, and demonstrate that he appreciates what they’re going through.”

As for his rival? “One of the challenges Governor Romney faces is to be able to build on his first debate performance, where he was able to begin to make the case to voters who were skeptical of him  that he is perhaps more likeable than the way he’s been portrayed.”

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“Romney wants to reinforce the impressions he made in the first debate. President Obama, who has a lot riding on this — probably more than Romney — also benefits from unusually low expectations, because he’s going to be evaluated against what happened in the first debate.”

This time, the moderator takes a back seat to the studio audience.

“You have to be careful because in a setting like this you can’t challenge your opponent too hard. But you can engage them.”

With the audience asking the questions, the candidates have to prepare for a range of potential topics.

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Watch tonight’s debate live on CBS 3 or listen on KYW Newsradio 1060, starting at 9 p.m.