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Five things McCain and Obama must do in tonight's debate

By Jimmy Orr / October 7, 2008

Jake Turcotte

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Although the pressure on John McCain and Barack Obama can't be anything like what Sarah Palin experienced last week, the two are still performing under the bright lights of an unforgiving American public when they debate this evening.

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The armchair quarterbacks at home all know how to debate much better than they do. And they'll be hurling epithets at the television screen when their candidate misses an opportunity to verbally mangle his opponent or launch a one-liner that will soar the politician into the Lloyd Bentsen Hall of Fame.

One thing is certain: we're a tough crowd.

Advantage?

On the surface, it can be argued that McCain has the home-field advantage. The town-hall format is something he prefers and has demonstrated much skill in.

The format allows for direct questioning of the candidates by the audience, rather than a robot Jim Lehrer, who asked the questions last month during the first presidential debate. NBC's Tom Brokaw is moderating the event tonight.

Unlike Gwen Ifill, who moderated the vice presidential debate last week, Brokaw – as far as we know – is not writing a book on either candidate so the issue of bias, which blew up between partisans in chat rooms all over the Internet, is off the table.  But then is bias ever off the table?

How to win

So what are the keys to victory?  Much like when Terry Bradshaw and Mike Ditka outline what each team must do in this hallowed and sacred part of the year known as Football Season, we've asked a couple of armchair political quarterbacks to help us analyze tonight's debate.

In this corner...

Chris Lehane is a Democratic strategist, frequent television commentator and former staffer in the Clinton White House.  He provided:

O's Five Principals of Combat

1.  Error free ball:  The trajectory of this campaign will not change unless O makes a real mistake that plays into a negative storyline (inexperience, elite/arrogant). And the history of presidential debates is that they usually alter the fundamentals of a campaign only when a candidate makes a major mistake that plays into a negative typecast. Thus, no mistakes on something that matters.

2.  Counter-punch like Muhammad Ali: Ali, one of the greatest heavyweights ever, knocked out big punchers like Foreman, Norton, and Frazier by counter-punching. Like Ali, Obama needs to hit back when McCain attacks, because voters absolutely want to know that the person in the Oval Office will stand up and fight for them, and because McCain's chin will be exposed when he bull-rushes Obama.

3.  Be Michael Corleone and not Sonny or Fredo:  Obama can't be like Sonny and go in swinging away without a real plan and he can't be Fredo and not fight back. He needs to be Michael – smart and shrewd in taking on his opponent.

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