HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. —
The questioners also succeeded in an area that the moderators of the previous debates - Jim Lehrer at the first presidential debate in Denver and Martha Raddatz with the vice-presidential candidates in Kentucky - did not: They asked questions about complex topics, including taxes and foreign policy, in plain English.
Mary Follano succeeded even after a stumble in the middle of her moment.
"Governor Romney, you have stated that if you're elected president, you would plan to reduce the tax rates for all the tax brackets and that you would work with the Congress to eliminate some deductions in order to make up for the loss in revenue.
"Concerning these various deductions, the mortgage deductions, the charitable deductions, the child tax credit and also the - oh, what's that other credit? I forgot."
"You're doing great," Obama offered.
"Oh, I remember," Follano continued. "The education credits, which are important to me, because I have children in college. What would be your position on those things, which are important to the middle class?"
Little information was made available by the Commission on Presidential Debates about the questioners. But public records revealed a Mary Follano, for instance, who is 54, lives in Oceanside, N.Y., and works as a respiratory therapist. She is a registered Republican. Trocolla is a Republican, too, aged 52 and the owner of a club. Kerry Ladka, 61, is a registered Republican and said during the debate that he works at Global Telecom Supply in Mineola, N.Y. His question, he said, came from his "brain trust" at the office.
One surprise of the evening was how little the two candidates tried to interact with their inquisitors. Both men walked up to the questioners and listened patiently while they spoke. But they spent most of the evening trying to pivot to a direct conversation with the other rather than engaging their audience.
Romney, responding to Follano's tax question, started by saying, "Let me tell you, you're absolutely right about part of that" - not exactly a warm and fuzzy outreach. At another moment, Romney initially ignored Katz's question about her disappointment in Obama's four years in order to rebut the president's previous remarks on women's health issues.
"Thank you. And I appreciate that question," Romney said. "I just want to make sure that, I think I was supposed to get that last answer."But he seemed to realize the peril of turning his back on his inquisitor.
"Let me come back," he said after some back-and-forth with moderator Candy Crowley, "and - and answer your question."