Debate preview: What do McCain, Obama have to do tonight?

Tonight we have the final presidential debate for the 2008 cycle, and if you’re in the Twin Cities area, we have some party ready for you!  AM1280 The Patriot will host a debate party at Trocadero’s in Minneapolis tonight.  The Northern Alliance Radio Network will emcee an evening of fun and politics, including my radio partner Mitch Berg, Power Line, SCSU Scholars, and Fraters Libertas.  We’ll have free appetizers and a cash bar. The debate goes from 8pm CST to 9:30pm CST and doors will open around 7:30pm. Admission is free – but please RSVP at the handy AM1280 RSVP Page so we can plan accordingly.


You won’t miss anything at Hot Air, either, if you’re not able to make it to the party.  We’ll have a live chat room running during the debate, with Jazz Shaw and Lady Logician moderating a cast of thousands — literally!  We may have a few other surprises for you, so stay tuned!

With John McCain stalled in the polls and Barack Obama riding comfortably at the moment, this debate becomes all about McCain.  He has to convince people that Obama isn’t ready to lead this nation, and that he can build a bipartisan coalition better than Obama can.  Why?  Because the election is, as always, in the hands of people who do not identify strongly on partisan or ideological grounds.  McCain can only win this election if he can convince people that an Obama presidency would be a disaster on economic grounds — which is the main focus for Americans in the wake of the financial collapse.

McCain has to do the following if he expects to score a big enough victory tonight:

  • Be aggressive.  McCain has to both make a positive case for himself and a negative case against Obama.  That will take a lot of effort and time, and McCain can’t waste time on the niceties.  We know he respects Obama.  He doesn’t have to tell us again.
  • Attack the fundamental assumptions of Obama’s populism.  McCain cannot win by being more of a populist than Obama.  Instead of Teddy Roosevelt, he needs a dose of Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan tonight.  He has to fight the false “deregulation” narrative that Obama and the Democrats have created for the Fannie/Freddie collapse and tell the truth about the government intervention in lending markets that created the bubble and the rest of the failures that followed.  If he can’t do that, McCain will not prevail.
  • Talk abortion and gun control. Even if Bob Schieffer follows the lead of Jim Lehrer, Gwen Ifill, and Tom Brokaw in embargoing discussion on these points, McCain has to find a way to broach these subjects.  Obama has a radical record on abortion and life issues that is far to the left of the mainstream in America.  He also has a record of supporting far-reaching gun control laws.  These issues provide McCain the quickest, most effective way to expose Obama as a hard-Left ideologue out of step with the American people.
  • Foreign policy.  It may not matter as much to Americans in the midst of a financial crisis, but McCain can and should tie that to American foreign policy, especially on trade.  Obama’s protectionist impulses could lead to another Smoot-Hawley strategy and a worldwide depression.  McCain has demonstrated strength in this area and needs to keep it alive as a debate topic tonight.

For Obama, the task is easier.  He’s ahead by most measures and has to ensure that he doesn’t do anything to damage his standing:

  • Maintain poise.  Everyone knows McCain will go on the attack tonight.  Obama can’t take the bait like he did in the first debate and argue from the defensive all night.   He can parry, but would do better to stick to his own policies.
  • Don’t stutter.  Obama did well in the first two debates on this score.
  • Stick to domestic economic policy. So far, that’s been his strength.  His populism has attracted voters, but now he needs to sound some moderate points in order to reach the undecideds.
  • Talk in general themes, not specifics.  Obama has shown that he gets trapped in the weeds when trying to talk specifics, stumbling over his words and sometimes contradicting himself (and reality).  He needs to stick to themes and concepts and project competence and rationality.

Which man will succeed?  And will it make any difference in the election?  We’ll find out soon enough…

Update: ABC reports on Obama’s strategy, thanks to a leaked memo: McCain’s insane.  They may still pull defeat from the jaws of victory.

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