Debate prep: My candidate is dumber than yours

Although there are plenty of amusing moments during a presidential campaign, one of the most humorous – and eye-rolling – is when the campaigns start bashing their own candidates in order to lower expectations for an upcoming debate.

We're seeing it now.  Of course it started earlier this week.  Then it took a time-out because John McCain suspended his campaign which, incidentally, never felt suspended.  But then after announcing his confidence that a financial bailout package is likely, he unsuspended resumed his campaign, and both sides went back to flogging themselves.

Obama:  McCain is great

A recent email from the Obama camp reads, "According to the pundits, McCain's debating skills are unparalleled ... and the expectations for him tonight are sky-high."

"The centerpiece of John McCain's campaign has been his more than a quarter century of experience in Washington learning about and debating foreign policy," the email continues.  "If he slips up, makes a mistake or fails to deliver a game-changing performance, it will be a serious blow to his campaign."

Obama:  I'm really terrible

The Obama camp also included a reference to an AP story that helped them denigrate their own candidate.

"For a man known as a powerful speaker, Obama has rarely wowed people in political debates. He can come across as lifeless, aloof and windy."

McCain:  You're right

This led the McCain communications team to issue an email criticizing the expectations game.

On the "lifeless, aloof and windy" charge, McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb said, "That is a better characterization of Senator Obama's brief record in the United States Senate. He has never once bucked his own party in order to enact major legislation, he has never once taken real action when he had more to gain from speechifying, and he has never once risked his own political life in the service of a cause greater than winning his next election."

McCain:  Obama is great

But McCain got into the self-flagellation game, too:

"Look, have no doubt about it, the capabilities of Senator Obama to debate – I mean, he's very, very good," McCain told reporters earlier this week. "He was able to beat Senator Hillary Clinton, who as we all know is very accomplished, very accomplished. And he was able to, I think, with his eloquence inspire a great number of Americans. So, these are going to be tough debates. But I believe that on the substance, on the substance, I can convince the American people that I can reform government, restore prosperity and keep the peace."

McCain: Obama's pretty good

It's not as though the McCain team can't keep up in the self-mutilation of their own candidate. They can. It was just that campaign suspension thing got in the way. When discussing the goals for McCain tonight, campaign adviser Mark Salter managed to get in a little Obama-praise.

“To do well, against a guy who’s a pretty good debater, show presidential leadership, and be able to speak directly to the American people about what he believes," he said.

Eye of the storm

It could be said we are in the eye of the storm right now. Just briefly, the attacks on each other are lightening up in order to play the lower-the-expectations game.

Enjoy it while it lasts. The eye will pass at around 9:30pm (ET) tonight. After that, it's back to the attacks.

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