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The John McCain/Barack Obama vibe: How will that affect tonight's debate?

In the end, might the winner of tonight's opening faceoff between John McCain and Barack Obama be determined by which is better able to disguise -- or at least temper -- their mutual disregard for one another?

John McCain_2 As we settle in to watch tonight's much-anticipated proceedings, that's one dynamic we'll be watching.

Obviously, there will be many other ways to judge who excels and who doesn't in the debate. Substance is one, theatrics another.

Thousands of journalists will scrutinize every utterance by the two presidential contenders to gauge their command of complex matters of foreign and economic policy.

Obama almost assuredly will be asked by Jim Lehrer to defend his opposition -- now almost two years ago -- to the increased deployment of American troops in Iraq. And the Democrat probably would be well served by a better answer than he's provided in the past about the surge.

McCain almost assuredly will be asked to defend his strong reaction to the military attack Russia Barack Obama launched against Georgia this summer, which he termed "a matter of urgent moral and strategic importance to the United States of America." McCain can be expected to forcefully restate his case, but he probably would be well served if he refrains from repeating his "We are all Georgians" line at a time when many Americans are focused on the status of their retirement funds.

The public reaction could hinge on whether one of the two men scores with a memorable quip, as occasionally has happened in past debates. One danger looms, though -- if the line comes across as obviously rehearsed, it could land with a thud.

Lacking a clear zinger, each candidate still faces imperatives on the style front. As has been widely noted of late, crisp answers are not Obama's forte; a recent Associated Press story that stirred a lot of attention characterized his persona in some debates as "lifeless, aloof and windy."

McCain benefited from such an Obama performance when he followed him onstage at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church in mid-August. And McCain himself hit a stride before a friendly audience, offering an effective counterpoint to Obama by delivering a series of direct responses.

Tonight, though, the field will be more even. And, of course, they'll be onstage together. And we'll be intently watching the vibe between them.

McCain's disdain for Obama as an upstart ...


... whose political career has reached a pinnacle prematurely was obvious even before his campaign began casting his every move as that of a rank opportunist. Will that side of McCain -- a brusque, contemptuous side evident at times during his primary encounters with Mitt Romney -- emerge?

If so, it likely will hurt him.

Similarly, it would not be surprising if Obama's fuse has shortened toward McCain, given the rough-and-tumble of their battle. But somehow he must thread a needle between displaying more passion in his back-and-forth with McCain while not coming across as angry.

And he definitely must avoid the snideness evident in his "you're likeable enough" comment about Hillary Clinton in the debate right before the New Hampshire primary -- the contest he surprisingly lost, perhaps in part because of that remark.

-- Don Frederick

Photo credits: Getty Images (McCain); AFP/Getty Images (Obama)

Comments () | Archives (10)

The comments to this entry are closed.

I am still waiting to see whether Senator Obama is capable of moving beyond his mantra of "hope and change." I've been waiting since the NH primary so I won't hold my breath.

It seems Jim is trying to get the candidates to address more directly the cause of the financial crisis rather than how they will deal with the impact to their budgets after the fact. I think both candidates are missing the point of the systemic issue of poor oversight by regulatory agencies and the hands off approach of this administration which has allowed greed and corruption to flourish in the government and the markets. I'd like to hear how they are going to ensure that sure someone is watching the store in their own administrations.

The Commission on Presidential Debates is restricting participation to the two parties that have had exclusive control of American politics for the past 200 years.

The current economic crisis is not just the work of the Bush administration, as Obama would like us to believe, but very much a bi-partisan effort that goes back to Clinton and Bush Sr. and Reagan.

Why is this not on the table? Because the two parties will not address issues that may tarnish their image, all at the expense of American taxpayers.

We need REAL DEBATES. Support opening up independent third party debates between candidates from across the political spectrum: Bob Barr (Libertarian) on 45 state ballots, Cynthia McKinney (Green) on 32 state ballots, Ralph Nader (Independent) on 46 state ballots, Chuck Baldwin (Constitution) on 37 state ballots.

Sign the petition to hear about real issues and real choices!

obama agreed with mccain way too much. i vote for mccain.

What's more telling is how the two political camps reacted after the debate. Obama's camp released an unedited clip of Obama's response to the Iraq War. They're not afraid of what their candidate said on stage in front of the nation.
McCain's camp on the other hand release three 10 second clips of Obama's response to McCain. The ad insults every American who watched the debate. I expect more than Hollywood style editing. I expect more from a presidential candidate.
I was undecided before this debate. Now I am certain McCain does not deserve my vote.

If two folks have a dollar at the beginning of the day, the smarter one will have both dollars by the end of the day. We are just at the beginning of another meltdown in the economy, similar to the crash of '29 and the S&L meltdown of the 80's. I've lost more than 25% of my retirement income, and I don't have that many years left. SSI may be gone by the time I qualify for it.
So, why would I trust that someone who is smarter than I am and a heck of a lot wealthier than I am actually cares a snit about me?
If you think you are smarter than Obama/Biden, vote for them and pay your increased taxes (or, if you qualify for the tax break, then pay the higher prices that will be passed on to us by the wealthier business owners who didn't qualify for the break, and pass their costs on to us).
On the other hand, if you think you're smarter than McCain/Palin, vote for them.
As for me, I think I'd rather vote for a ticket with someone on it who BELIEVES in God than vote for a ticket with someone on it who thinks he IS God.

obama agreed with mccain way too much. i vote for mccain.

Posted by: wendy dubose | September 26, 2008 at 08:27 PM

Way to use your brain. Look at the issues, with McCain you will be paying more with a new healthcare tax and the same ol' big corporations that are now going bankrupt will continue to get all the benefit. Middle America loses with Mccain

McCain comes off as mean and small, he never even looked at Obama. We need a leader that is level headed and thoughtful. McCain had no answers, he talked in circles and sometimes made no sense. Often he just retold old stories we have all already heard. We get it, you have been around a long time and have a lot of stories to tell. We need a leader who thinks about the world as a whole and looks beyond constant conflict. McCain can only see enemies, he is haunted by his own experience. We need a new perspective. McCain is dangerous.

Also, Obama was right, Kissinger backs direct talks with Iran ‘WITHOUT CONDITIONS’.

I guess McCain does not know his friend of 35 years so well.

I am an independent voter and i definately think Obama won tonights debate.

BC News' Rachel Martin Reports:

Who was Right and Who Was Wrong?

Former U.S.Secretary of State Henry Kissinger today told an audience in Washington, DC that the U.S. should negotiate with Iran "without conditions" and that the next President should begin such negotiations at a high level.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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