I only participated in a formal debate once, in high school, so I can’t really comment on the ground rules for the presidential debates; however, the “town hall” meeting sounds like a farce:
In the “Town Hall” debate, audience members will ask their moderator-screened questions, but they won’t be allowed any follow-up, and if they deviate from approved levels of free speech, they will be silenced. Candidates will therefore be able to a) change the subject entirely, b) misleadingly paraphrase the question (one of Monkey’s best tactics), or c) stall by following-up an earlier point, especially since their opponent is forbidden from asking any direct questions in response.
The Commission on Presidential Debates (CPD) is a private company run by the two main political parties.
Even former President George Bush decried the vapidity of the CPD’s events, “It’s too much show business and too much prompting, too much artificiality, and not really debate,” said Bush. “They’re rehearsed appearances.”
This page lists how often words like “NAFTA” or “Homlessness” came up in the 2000 debates: 0 times. “Poverty” was mentioned once.
Since all that really matters is how the public perceives the debates, rather than what is said during the debate, I think the only thing to do is to watch E! Entertainment the following morning.