Before I get to the debate itself, let me tell you about the plans we have for covering it.  I’ll be at Trocadero’s tonight as part of the Northern Alliance Radio Network’s event for AM 1280 The Patriot’s first Debate Party.  We’re getting together with a few (hundred) of our listeners to watch the debate live, and then to offer our commentary immediately afterward.  When we did this in 2004, we didn’t give it any formal advance notice, and over 700 people showed up.  We’ve already received over 400 RSVPs for tonight, so we’re expecting a big night — and we’d love to have you join us!  Festivities start at 7:30 pm CT, and the debate starts 30 minutes later.

If you can’t make it to Trocadero’s tonight, be sure to come right here to Hot Air.  I’ll have the chat room open, although I won’t be able to live blog, for obvious reasons.  I may try playing with Ustream to do a live broadcast of the panel show afterward, but that may be tricky, as the lighting at Trocadero’s may not make that possible.  If nothing else, I could stream the audio.

Now, as for the debate itself, here are the keys that I’ll watch on each candidate.

  • Sarah Palin: She has to stay aggressive with both Joe Biden and moderator Gwen Ifill.  She has to attack the assumptions behind the questions, as Ifill will attempt to box her into desired responses.  Biden will damn her with faint praise, being condescending while on the surface seeming courtly.  She needs to push back against that.  Most importantly, she needs to stop worrying about details and speak to themes and concepts, similar to what Barack Obama needed to do in his debate, and mostly failed.  Best attack point: Biden’s pork.
  • Joe Biden: He has a tougher assignment.  He has to give the appearance of jabbing while trying to throw haymakers.  Normally, I’d expect a man with Biden’s experience to attempt to drown Palin with details, but Biden has a habit of inventing those on the fly.  Would Ifill call him on that?  Doubtful, but the post-debate spin could get brutal.  He can’t attack on experience, either, given Obama’s own short record of service, and can’t get by with the Joe Sixpack routine, either.  He’ll want to press his advantage on foreign policy.  Best attack point: Foreign travel.

I expect this debate to be filled with canned sound bites, gotcha asides, and very little in the way of substantive policy debate.  In other words, business as usual.  However, Palin has the most to gain and the most to lose in this debate.  Biden is a known quantity and even a poor debate showing won’t hurt Barack Obama, but a disaster from Palin will provide a drag on the ticket that only clear wins in the coming debates by John McCain can reverse.