McCain v. Obama, the rematch

As the two presidential candidates prepare to debate again, here's what to expect.

Published October 8, 2008 12:35AM (EDT)

We're now less than an hour away from the second presidential debate of this general election cycle. It's not likely that this will have a major impact on the election -- ultimately, debates have never been shown to have a significant effect on the polls -- but right now, John McCain would very much like it to.

The conventional wisdom has always been that it's the underdog who wants to debate, and right now McCain is very much the underdog. With that in mind, one interesting thing to watch here will be how the format affects the night's events, and the candidates. Tonight's debate will be conducted in a town hall style; typically, that would mean the advantage goes to McCain, who's always been strong in town halls.

On the other hand, though, there's the question of whether McCain will be able to push his campaign's most recent message effectively in this format. Democratic lawyer Bob Barnett, who negotiated ground rules on Obama's behalf, told Politico, "There's a lot of talk about nastiness and personal attacks, but in this type of format, that is a huge mistake. You have to be respectful to the audience questioners, you have to be respectful of the Internet questioners, and you have to have the viewers who are watching feel that you are responding to the voters and the citizens who are asking the questions."

McCain aides have reportedly said they don't expect the candidate to bring up Obama's ties to former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers, who's been a hot topic on the right lately. That said, though, they did leave the Republican nominee an out, saying he would discuss Ayers if the subject came up.

The Chicago Sun-Times' Lynn Sweet has the rundown on the rules for tonight. Notably, the two campaigns agreed that audience members would not be allowed to ask follow-up questions. However, moderator Tom Brokaw was reportedly not a party to that deal, and he will be permitted to ask such questions. Also, the two candidates will be allowed to stand from the directors' chairs that will be provided for them, but they'll be inside figurative fences, not allowed to go outside their designated areas or walk up to their opponent's chair.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama John Mccain R-ariz.