Palin is a hit in some quarters: Tammy Haddad was there when she startled a group of prominent female leaders. "Palin declined to take political questions. But she did tell NEWSWEEK that she is still grateful to the Miss America pageant for the scholarship money, and revealed that her husband Todd judged the Miss Alaska Pageant this year, saying 'he loved it.' "
If and when there is a debate: "The senators' contrasting personas have been readily apparent throughout the campaign -- in appearances on the stump, in front of news cameras, and in numerous debates with party rivals during the primary season," per The Boston Globe's Scott Helman. "Obama exudes coolness and calm, but he can come off as smug and detached. McCain employs a folksy, from-the-gut approach but at times seems more like he is shooting from the hip."
On temperament: "However forceful and passionate Mr. Obama can be, his speeches and public appearances this week have underscored how he is sometimes out of sync with the visceral anger of Americans who are losing their jobs and homes," Patrick Healy writes in The New York Times. "He often talks about growing up on food stamps and about having paid off his student loans only recently, yet his tone and volume, body language, facial expressions and words convey a certain distance from the ache that many voters feel."
"Whereas former Vice President Al Gore and Senator John Kerry struck populist tones during their presidential bids, Mr. Obama is having none of it. For better or worse, his performance in this time of financial peril goes to the heart of who he is," Healy writes.
Adding to the drama: "For McCain, the first challenge is to show up. That might help him avoid the first trap that the Obama campaign has been laying for him: portraying him as reckless," Slate's John Dickerson writes.
A counterpoint, from the New York Post's Charles Hurt: "Tonight's debate at Ole Miss has to be a game changer, or this election very well may be lost for good. But it's not John McCain who needs a knockout right now. It's Barack Obama who must redirect the trajectory of the whole race in tonight's sparring match."
We'd believe this story -- but since the McCain campaign has stripped The New York Times of its journalistic credentials, what to think?
"Mr. Obama began his own run of advertisements on radio and television that have matched the dubious nature of Mr. McCain's more questionable spots," Jim Rutenberg and Julie Bosman write in the Times. "A radio advertisement running in Wisconsin and other contested states misleadingly reports that Mr. McCain 'has stood in the way of' federal financing for stem cell research; Mr. McCain did once oppose such federally supported research but broke with President Bush to consistently support it starting in 2001 (his running mate, Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, does not support it). A commercial running here on Thursday morning highlighting Mr. McCain's votes against incentives for alternative energy misleadingly asserts he supports tax breaks for 'one source of energy: oil companies.' "