The first presidential debate takes place tonight, a chance to see Barack Obama and Mitt Romney standing side-by-side, responding to questions on issues and getting their digs in against each other.
Televised residential debates have come to be pretty much like national political conventions. Over the years they have become extremely rehearsed. The candidates will be asked predictable questions by the moderators, and they will respond with answers that have been prepared, edited, revised and drilled into the candidate by their handlers. Following the debate, their "spin doctors" will try to convince everyone that their candidate knocked it out of the park and that their opponent stumbled.
There are things to watch for. We know what each candidate has been saying for months about the economy, the deficit, immigration, foreign relations, and so on. This will be a chance to hear them explain it in more than sound bites. It will be a chance to hear how they react to challenges to their stances, to see how coherent they are when speaking beyond their rehearsed responses, if not off-the-cuff. It will be a chance to see if anyone stumbles, and how they recover. It will be a chance to see how the candidate connects with the people who are listening.
We doubt there will be many mind-changing moments. The candidates learned from the Kennedy-Nixon debates how important appearance and manner are. We doubt we will see anyone breaking out in a sweat as Nixon did. We don't think there will be any gaffes such as Gerald Ford's comment about the Soviet?Union not having influence in Eastern Europe.
This is an election were a lot of people have already made up their minds. We don't think anyone will sway dedicated believers from the other's camp, but it will be a chance for the undecideds to get a better look at their choice.