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Readers weigh in on debate questions

With Tuesday's second presidential debate looming, both candidates spent Monday hidden from the media. President Obama geared up in Virginia while Mitt Romney stayed near his home in Massachusetts. NBC's Chuck Todd reports.

Tuesday night’s presidential debate will feature a town hall-style format, where the two candidates will answer questions from a selected group of voters on a wide range of issues.

Instead of the two candidates sitting together at a table, or standing behind lecterns, with a moderator directing the discussion, President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney will talk directly to individual voters and attempt to answer their questions and concerns.  

Participants in this format will be selected by the Gallup polling organization, their questions will be submitted to the moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, but asked by the individual voters themselves.

RELATED: Our original request for your questions

The two candidates, seen in this composite of file photos, are set to debate on Tuesday night. What would you ask them?

Over the weekend, we asked readers of NBCNews.com to submit the questions they would ask if given the opportunity to participate in the debate and we received over 4,800 responses.  

The questions covered a wide array of topics and concerns. Many were addressed to a single candidate -- pointed questions asking the president for specifics about the recent events in Libya, or queries directed toward Romney and comments he made about "47 percent" of Americans at a private fundraiser.

Other questions were put to both candidates -- on jobs, the economy, foreign policy, and health care.  

MSNBC analyst Steve Schmidt and Current TV's Jennifer Granholm weigh in on the expectations for the second presidential debate. Among the topics: Which candidate has the advantage going into the town hall format and how it may change the state of the race.

But outside of those, readers had questions on all kinds of issues: The debt and deficit, the environment, immigration, gun ownership, reproductive rights, the war on drugs, the tone of the political debate in Washington, religion and, yes, even one posing the now-revoked Pizza Hut challenge to ask the candidates to choose between sausage or pepperoni.

How will this week's town hall debate format benefit and work against both Mitt Romney and President Obama? What to make of the recent round of polls? NBC News' Chuck Todd joins Morning Joe to discuss.

We can’t reprint all the questions in full, but we culled through the submissions to identify the major themes our readers are most interested in.

Here we've highlighted some of the more prominent areas of questioning we received, along with some actual queries, and the general positions of the candidates.

(The names and locations of our NBCNews.com participants are not included because not all the e-mail submissions included them.)

Help for middle-and lower-income Americans and the unemployed
“All I have heard about are the upper class and middle class. What about those of us who make under $100,000 per year? What are their plans for us? All I've heard is by making the rich richer the rest of us will make more, or have more jobs. That doesn't work for me.”

“Why do we hear all about the middle class but nothing about the poor people?”

“I’m seeing some hiring in our area, but mostly part time with no benefits. Businesses would rather hire two or more part-time employees than one full-time employee which would require them to provide benefits. The lack of work hours prevents these people from affording any sort of stability or standard of living. What would you do stimulate full-time hiring rather than the part-time hiring we have now?”

“How do they plan to deal with the rampant age discrimination that is going on for workers in their 40s and 50s who were displaced by the economic downturn of the past four years?”

Where the candidates stand: Last summer Obama proposed a new stimulus program which would use federal funds to prevent up to 280,000 public school teacher layoffs, pay for modernizing 35,000 public schools, and give tax credits to firms which hired long-term unemployed people.

Romney has said his program of tax simplification, increased trade with Latin America, increased energy production, and more efficient job training would create millions of jobs.

Romney has proposed to lower income tax rates, but also to curb or eliminate tax preferences and deductions so that his entire income tax overhaul would be revenue neutral.

Jen Psaki, the traveling press secretary for the Obama campaign, explains how the president is preparing for Tuesday's debate and whether he will handle it differently from the previous one.

He expects that there would be both income growth and federal revenue growth resulting from a more efficient tax system. He said in the first debate with Obama, "I will not reduce the share (of taxes) paid by high-income individuals."

Right now, people in the top 20 percent of the income distribution pay nearly 70 percent of all federal taxes and people in the top 1 percent of the income distribution pay 24 percent of all federal taxes, according to the Tax Policy Center.

Romney also said, "I will not under any circumstances raise taxes on middle-income families. I will lower taxes on middle-income families."

Obama has proposed to raise taxes on people earning more than $200,000 (single filers) and $250,000 (married couples filing jointly). And he has already raised taxes on them in the Affordable Care Act by imposing higher Medicare taxes.

Also, employees with high-value employer-provided health insurance ("Cadillac plans") will find that their plans will be hit with a new tax in 2018 on the value of the coverage exceeding $10,200 for individuals and $27,500 for family coverage, plus a cost growth factor.

Lingering effects of the 2008 financial crisis and financial sector bailout
“My question would be: What caused the financial meltdown in 2008? Unless we know what happened, then how could we possibly prevent it from happening again? This is something that the American people deserve to know.”

“I would ask Mitt Romney, if you had been president in 2009 when the economy was collapsing, what would you have done to prevent another Great Depression, besides letting GM go bankrupt?”

“How was the repaid TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) money used and how should it have been used? Did it pay down debt or go into a slush fund?”

Where the candidates stand: As a member of the Senate, Obama voted for the TARP bailout.

Romney supported the 2008 financial sector bailout, saying it “was the right action to be taken,” citing the need “to keep banks from collapsing in a cascade of failures.”

Reuters, Getty Images

In the final push in the 2012 presidential election, candidates Mitt Romney and Barack Obama make their last appeals to voters.

Romney has supported parts the Dodd-Frank law which Congress enacted and Obama signed into law in response to the financial crisis, but Romney also said in the first debate that the Dodd-Frank law “has some unintended consequences that are harmful to the economy. One is it designates a number of banks as too big to fail, and they're effectively guaranteed by the federal government. This is the biggest kiss that's been given to New York banks I've ever seen.”

Inflation and the cost of living
“To both candidates, what is the average price for a gallon of milk today?”

“With the economy in a recession and the working class spending more for gasoline, groceries, and all other products, what will you do in the first 30 days to help lower prices in order for the prices of other goods to come down and would you put that statement in writing tonight and have it as public record for the American public?”

Where the candidates stand: In the first debate, Romney did raise the issue of inflation contending that the prices of gasoline food, electricity, and medical care have all increased during Obama’s presidency.

Obama has not made inflation an issue, focusing instead on improving public education, developing American energy, closing tax loopholes for companies that are locate production overseas, and “closing our deficit in a responsible, balanced way that allows us to invest in our future.”

Saving and reforming entitlement programs
“If Social Security is in trouble and needs to be saved, why don't they just remove the cap (on taxable earnings) and everyone pays into it no matter how much money they make. This is a tax on the middle class with a cap of $106,000.”

“I am now sixty-four years old and have worked since I was fifteen years old. Both my employers and I have made payments into Social Security and Medicare for all these years. I retired two years ago and an now receiving a reduced benefit because of my early retirement. How can any candidate or party make plans to do away with Social Security and Medicare, when they are not the ones paying for it? If there is going to be a shortage, increase the employee and employer contribution amounts.”

Where the candidates stand: Obama said in the first debate that “Social Security is structurally sound,” but “it's going to have to be tweaked the way it was by Ronald Reagan and Speaker -- Democratic Speaker Tip O'Neill” in 1983. That 1983 bill included a tax increase and a reduction in future retirement benefits.

In a speech in February, Romney rejected the idea of Social Security tax increases but said “we will slowly raise the (Social Security) retirement age. We will slow the growth in benefits for higher-income retirees.”

In his fiscal year 2013 budge proposal, Obama calls for requiring higher-income retirees to pay higher premiums for Medicare doctor's visits and prescription drug coverage. He also calls for higher deductibles for Medicare outpatient care and doctor's office visits, starting in 2017, and for requiring new co-payments for Medicare home health care services starting in 2017.

He also proposed to give the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a group of independent experts, the power to limit the growth of Medicare spending to the rate of national income growth plus 0.5 percent.

From tramping through cornfields to munching ice cream cones to holding babies – the time-honored traditions of the campaign trail leave President Barack Obama and GOP challenger Mitt Romney looking surprisingly alike.

On Medicare, Romney proposes no change for current recipients, but starting in 2023, would people on Medicare to choose among private insurance plans and receive a federal subsidy -- scaled to income to help pay for coverage.

He has also said, "We will gradually increase the Medicare eligibility age by one month each year. In the long run, the eligibility ages for both programs (Medicare and Social Security) will be indexed to longevity so that they increase only as fast as life expectancy."

Energy
“Why nobody is talking about the high gas prices?”

“Why isn't all the petroleum product from our domestic drilling and refining kept for domestic consumption? Perhaps a new publicly owned refinery in the northern Plains states could handle the dirty oil from Canada and give us a source of refined product for all our governmental needs. Isn't this a shovel-ready project that would create good long-lasting jobs and put us further down the road of energy independence?”

Where the candidates stand: Romney has made increasing domestic energy production one of his central campaign themes, while Obama has claimed credit for increased domestic production of oil and gas during the past four years.

But the Environmental Protection Agency this year imposed new clean air rules that limit emissions from coal-fired electric power plants.

Obama said in the first debate that he and Romney “both agree that we've got to boost American energy production, and oil and natural gas production are higher than they've been in years. But I also believe that we've got to look at the energy sources of the future, like wind and solar and bio fuels, and make those investments” through federal subsidies for alternative energy firms.

Romney said he’d double the number of permits for domestic oil and gas development. He also said to Obama, “I like coal. I'm going to make sure we can continue to burn clean coal. People in the coal industry feel like it’s getting crushed by your policies.”

A Romney spokesman said in August that he would allow the wind credit to expire, “end the stimulus boondoggles, and create a level playing field on which all sources of energy can compete on their merits.”

And finally – expressing the perhaps quixotic desire of many readers for more compromise and bipartisan problem-solving in the nation’s capital, these questions:

“If you are unsuccessful in winning the election, would you consider taking a position in your opponent's administration with an eye towards helping to foster bipartisanship? If so, what ideas of your opponent would you be most enthusiastic about supporting?”