I would do a full-out preview of the debate, but there's so many good ones already out I feel that it's almost unnecessary. Here's an explanation of the rules. A preview from Moderate Voice points out the race is still "volatile," the Remmers Report (h/t to Moderate Voice) goes inside McCain's pre-debate head, and Lawrence Cudlow from Townhall says McCain must talk about the economy, not Ayers.
My opinion is that Obama's just got to keep being as cool as the other side of the pillow, connecting with voters on the economy, and hitting back when McCain lies about his tax plan or anything else. If Ayers comes up, Obama must not be flustered, but honest. There's nothing there that's particularly damning, really. Ayers crimes were a long time in the past when Obama met him, and he knew him as an expert on school reform and a fellow professor and not much else. Obama can't be complacent or too reluctant to talk about any issue, he must be pro-active. The debate is his to lose.
McCain, on the other hand, must shine. I don't think that he needs a game-changer here (28 days is a lot of time), but he's got to do substantially better than the last debate. He has to look at Obama and not suggest contempt for him, like in the last debate. This town hall atmosphere is his atmosphere. It's very possible for him to win here, but I do think McCain loses if he goes on the attack about Ayers. But my bet is that a question will come up from the moderator or the audience about that. But if a question comes up about McCain's negative campaigning, he can't act like he did in the Des-Moines Press Register interview, as if it's preposterous to suggest he's playing dirty. I don't know what he does instead of that, maybe say both sides have gotten dirty, and it's regrettable, and promise not to do it again (and wait three days and do it anyway). And he's got to talk about the economy in a way that matters.
Now, on to the current state of the race. Due to the current McCain/Palin strategy, which is to make Obama seem foreign or "other" through questioning his patriotism, his connections with Ayers (CNN does the best reporting on this, though other folks say it doesn't really matter, and that McCain has connections that are damaging in a similar way), and where his money comes from, the issue of race has come up again.
Race is an issue because making someone seem foreign, unpatriotic, or just "other"--McCain asked yesterday, "Who is the real Barack Obama?," and Palin said ""This is not a man who sees America as you and I do"--is something that is done to people of another race. It's what we've done to Native Americans, the Irish, African-Americans, and Mexicans/hispanics. Native Americans were called "dangerous," and "savage," (unlike the Puritans), the Irish were called job-stealing drunks, and Hispanics suffer(ed) from similar rhetoric. African-Americans still suffer from this treatment, but it was much worse and more pronounced pre-Civil Rights Amendment. It's not acceptable now to be out-and-out racist (thank God), and those kinds of attacks aren't even paid attention to. But the attacks that get attention now are subtle, harder to cull out. Any black man who stands up for his rights is labeled "angry," and sometimes associated with separatists like the Nation of Islam. Words like "uppity" are used, without the word that normally follows it. You can probably think of a dozen or more code words if you try (I don't have the time).
Most of us probably recognize these coded attacks pretty easily. We've likely heard them all our lives. I know I have. I grew up in the Black Belt, and heard coded racial slurs almost daily. I can detect it, and you probably can too.
Obama faces even tougher challenges because of his ancestry and his name, along with his race. Case in point, the FOXNews anchor who was quickly fired after she asked if Michelle and Barack's post-speech hand shake (a fist pound) was a "terrorist fist bump."
Even in the past couple of days, you can see the results of the kind of rhetoric on McCain/Palin's crowds. One fella in the crowd at a Palin rally yelled "kill him!"" in reference to Ayers (conflicting reports suggest possibly about Obama, but I think it was about Ayers), another yelled "terrorist" after a reference to Obama at a McCain rally. Today at a Palin rally, a crowd member yelled "treason!" in reference to Obama, and at a McCain rally, and another told an African-American sound tech to "sit down, boy."
These things aren't necessarily all correlated, but it's interesting that they're popping up after McCain/Palin went negative in the manner they did.
I said all that to link to some interesting pieces on race here, here, and here. And also to note that if anyone says anything about race, Republicans complain that any time Obama is criticized he "plays the race card." But it's also sexist to ask Palin simple questions.
Speaking of Palin, the Vice Presidential candidate who is yet to do a press conference, the press is now no longer allowed to ask questions to people in Palin's crowd. They hate the media, because people like Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric ask "gotcha questions" (really? did you see those interviews?), which is allegedly a tactic "rarely employed with major liberal candidates."
In other news, the wife of Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is backing Obama (Chuck hasn't endorsed yet).
Update: Cindy McCain says Obama "has waged the dirtiest campaign in American history," and ALModerate points out some of the race-tinged moments at McCain and Palin rallies.
Also, the Weekly's own Mark Kelly has got his Electoral College Scoreboard up.